Take My Yoke Upon You (Mat 11:28-30)
Draw near unto me, ye unlearned, and dwell in the house of learning. Wherefore are ye slow, and what say ye to these things, seeing your souls are very thirsty? I opened my mouth, and said, Buy her for yourselves without money. Put your neck under the yoke, and let your soul receive instruction: she is hard at hand to find. (Sirach 51:23-26)
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mat 11:28-30)
The scholar Henry Chadwick states: “Among Greek-speaking Christians …The wisdom of Ben Sira became so popular that in the west it acquired the title ‘Ecclesiasticus’, and a famous saying of Jesus in Matt 11:28 directly quotes from Sirach 51:27.” Chadwick is speaking of the following verse: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
In our day we speak of blue collar and white collar workers. This tends to mean those who work with their hands, and those who work at their desks. In general, white collar work requires a greater degree of education than does blue collar work. This distinction was even more pronounced in Jesus’ day, when literacy was rare; when most people were unlearned, and therefore laborers.
The two passages are not direct quotations; Jesus is restating the verse from Sirach. This is parallelism, a literary technique used in Hebrew poetry, and would have been familiar to Jesus’ audience. The call to the unlearned to dwell in the house of learning is a call for them to rest from their labors. But the context of Sirach is even more interesting. Chapter 51 is a prayer, and beginning at verse 13 Jesus ben Sirach begins to describe his search for wisdom. Thus when Jesus is quoting from Sirach, he is identifying Himself as Wisdom incarnate.
This connection between Jesus and Wisdom becomes even clearer when we discover Jesus’ reference to the yoke comes from Sirach injunction to “Put your neck under the yoke.” In Sirach, this is the yoke of Wisdom; in Matthew, the yoke of Wisdom belongs to Jesus. It is His yoke, it is His burden. He, Jesus, is Wisdom personified, and only in Him do we find rest for our souls.