"Here, take my yoke upon you and learn from me" (Matthew 11:29a)
A yoke is an instrument of work. In this verse Jesus is requiring something of all who would be His followers. Martin Luther believed this was a chief reason why people don't run to Christ. The Gospel is costly. It makes demands upon a person's life.
Even non-believers understand this. Sigmund Freud, in his book Civilisation and Its Discontents, argues that Christianity requires too much because it teaches that all conduct should be motivated from love. Biology, says Freud, requires aggression towards our enemies and therefore the command to love represses our natural instincts. He believed that the command to "love our neighbor as ourselves" was unreasonable, stating "Not merely is this stranger in general unworthy of my love; I must honestly confess that he has more claim to my hostility and even my hatred" (p 56). In other words, Freud felt the command to love was too demanding.
Jesus is demanding much, to be sure. It is difficult to love, but consider the pain and difficulty caused by failing to love. War, rape, murder, gossip, slavery, abandonment, betrayal--all these actions stem from hatred or apathy. Lives are destroyed, reputations are ruined, human beings are used and devalued. Jesus is speaking to those individuals who have been beaten down by life and is offering them a new way to go forward. Instead of continuing the endless battle against others (which ultimately destroys us all), he offers us the way of the Father, who is love. Fredrick Bruner once wrote on this passage, "When Jesus offers a yoke he offers what me might think tired workers need least. They need a mattress or a vacation, not a yoke. But Jesus realizes that the most restful gift he can give the tired is a new way to carry life" (Matthew: A Commentary: Vol 1, p 538).
But Jesus is also saying something else: he is commanding us to learn. What is noteworthy is how we are to go about learning from him. The yoke was a work instrument. It required toil and labor. In other words, we don't not merely sit at Jesus' feet and learn as if we were mere students. We are disciples--perhaps we could even say apprentices--who are to learn from Jesus as we are following after Him. The goal in the Christian life is never to simply learn about Jesus (gaining knowledge), but rather to learn from Him (changing our lives to be like Him).
Love cannot be studied. To understand it, you must practice it.