I spent this Memorial Day as wastefully as possible. I slept in as late as I could, I played Frisbee in the park, and I sat around and read and watched television. I told myself that nothing too productive would happen.  And it was fantastic.

Expedia.com does an annual “Vacation Deprivation” survey which came out at the end of April.  With summer coming, I figured it would be beneficial to know the vacation habits of my fellow workers.  The average American receives 14 days of vacation, up from 12 in 2005.  The average worker in
Great Britain, however, receives 24 days of vacation.  Germans take 26 days off, on average, and the French get a whopping 36 vacation days.  So, we have the least vacation time.  We can’t, however, complain.  This is because on average, for the roughly 146 million American workers, 3 vacation days get left on the table at the end of the year.  Three.  That adds up to 438 million vacation days that are unused in our country.  Do we not like vacation?  Is it too stressful to plan?  Is there too much to do at work?  Really, why don’t we use our vacation days?

I think our unused vacation days signal a trend in our culture: the inability to rest.  We are a stressed people.  We caffeinate ourselves to get going and take sleeping pills to stop.  We are connected and networked and wireless.  Our work rarely ends with the drive home.  We have forgotten the pleasure and necessity of a day, or days, of rest.

In place after place in the Bible, God commands his people to rest.  In ancient
Israel, the command to rest made the ten most important laws – the Ten Commandments.  Jesus picks this up in Matthew 11.  He was teaching a crowd and told them, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  He goes on to say, “You will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).”  Jesus commands us to come to him not to work or serve, but to rest.

The word “yoke” had a different meaning in ancient
Israel, though.  Today, when I think of yoke, which I very rarely do, I think of yoking oxen together with a big wooden frame.  But, to understand “yoke” 2000 years ago we have to understand the culture.  At the time of
Jesus, Israel was extremely religious.  The rabbis, or religious leaders, followed literally hundreds of different laws.  They would get together and debate these laws, to talk about which were most important.  Some might argue it was more important to tithe – or give part of your income away – than to honor your parents.  Others might argue the opposite.  How they rated the different laws was called a “yoke.”  A rabbi’s yoke referred to their teaching of the laws.  Jesus said his yoke was light.

We see this in Mark 12 as Jesus enters one of these conversations.  The text says one of the scribes heard Jesus discussing religion, so he asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important?”  Jesus answered very simply.  He essentially said, “Love God and love other people (Mark 12:28-31).”  He went on to say that all the Law depends on these two ideas.  He took hundreds laws and boiled them down to 2.

This has implications for us today.  In his time, Jesus was constantly coming up against the religious leaders for giving the people too many laws to follow.  In Matthew 23, he says the religious leaders “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders (Matthew 23.4).”  The culture of doing this and making sure to do that and following inane rules and trying to keep up appearances to look “religious” wasn’t what Jesus wanted his followers to be about.  He made things simple for people.  Two commands.  Love God.  Love other people.

Does the scenario in ancient
Israel sound familiar?  People trying hard to keep up appearances?  A culture where there is always one more thing you have to do?  A culture where everyone is trying to get ahead?

Jesus steps into that situation and declares that life should not be lived that way.  In a few years from now, or months from now, or even days from now, the chores and duties of today will not matter.  What will matter is how we love God and love other people.  It is a burden that is easy and light, not heavy like the race in which we too often find ourselves.  And whether we take all of our vacation days or not, we can live in a way that is relaxed and stress-less, by following only two commands.  Not all that society wants us to do.  Only two.