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My Yoke is Easy

by Brant Pitre July 17, 2020 0 Comments



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Transcript:

Now with that said, Jesus moves to the second part of the teaching here, which is about his yoke.  And that is Y-O-K-E and not Y-O-L-K, not his yolk, but his yoke.  When I was a kid I used to hear the word yoke and I though it was like egg yolk and it didn’t make any sense.  You know, Jesus saying take my yolk upon you, and i was like “what is Jesus talking about eggs for?”  But this is the image here of a yoke that would be used for beasts of burden when they were plowing the fields, the wooden harness that they would use to harness oxen together in order to plow the fields.  And in this case, Jesus says something really remarkable.  He says “come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden [or burdened], and I'm going to give you rest.”  So he is inviting us in to rest.  Now at that point this sounds great.  I don’t know about you, but I am pretty tired.  Especially if you are an American, we like to work and we like to work hard, and we tend to work ourselves to death.  So being a heavy burden with all of our labors is a natural condition, it is something that has been a part of the human condition since the fall of Adam in Genesis 3, that fruitless toil and labor are going to be part of the lot of humanity after the fall in the Old Testament.  So Jesus is speaking to everyone here.  “If you're laboring and you are heavy burdened, come to me and I will give you rest.” 

So that sounds really good, but how do I get that rest, Jesus?  Well take this giant piece of wood, this yoke, and put it on your shoulders, that's how you are going to rest with me.  So this is one of those parables, one of those riddles that Jesus gives.  Usually if you invite someone in to rest, you don't place a giant heavy piece of wood on their shoulders.  You don't say “are you tired?  Would you like to rest?  Then pick up these two 50-gallon buckets of water and carry them with me.  So it's a paradox, it's a mystery, this is another mystery he is giving to us here.  So he says “take my yoke upon you; and learn from me…”  So he is talking about his teaching here “…for I am meek [or gentle] and lowly [or humble] in heart, and that's how you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  So what is Jesus doing here?  Well you will see in just a couple chapters in Matthew's Gospel that Jesus taught in parables, and parables weren't just nice stories that were drawing on everyday life and making a comparison between two different things, they were also riddles.  The word parable can refer to a riddle, and this is really a riddle here.  Jesus is posing this riddle of the fact that if you take his yoke upon your shoulders, it's going to be a burden, but it is actually going to be light and it is going to be easy.

So what is he referring to here?  Well, two things, first, you might recall from the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, that the last time Jesus talked about putting wood on your shoulders was when he said to “take up your cross and follow him.”  So on one level he's continuing the image of the cross, of bearing the cross in order to be his disciple.  It is only through the cross that you'll get to the resurrection, it is only through suffering that you will learn how to love and that you'll taste the glory of the world to come.  That’s one dimension of the meaning.  The other dimension though, and the primary one I think in context, is Jesus’ way of life and not just his teaching.  He is not just telling us to accept his teachings here, he is telling us to imitate him in two key ways.  First, in gentleness or meekness, second, in humility.  So those are the yokes of Jesus here, gentleness and humility.  So this should make us think back to the 5th chapter of Matthew's Gospel, the Beatitudes, when he talks about the people who are poor in spirit.  The humble, they're happy, they are going to inherit the kingdom of God.  Blessed are the meek, the gentle, they are going to inherit the earth.  Even though it looks like the powerful will get the earth, in fact, those who are gentle are the ones who get the earth.  Those who love their enemies and turn the other cheek, that is the real power and that is the real peace that comes from living according to the Beatitudes and living the Gospel.  So Jesus is inviting the disciples to imitate him in his humility and in his gentleness, and in doing so he is actually alluding to the Old Testament — surprise, surprise, he does this all the time.  But in this case it is interesting, because the illusion here is to one of the books in the Catholic Old Testament that is not in the Protestant Old Testament.  In the book of Sirach 51 — this isn’t quoted in the lectionary, but I thought I would give it to you here — we see the exact same imagery.  In Sirach 51:26-27, Wisdom in person, the person of Wisdom, is speaking; and Wisdom says this:

Put your neck under the yoke, and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by.  See with your eyes that I have labored little and found myself much rest.

Notice the two images there, taking the yoke of Wisdom upon you will actually give you rest, if you learn to live according to Wisdom.  So what is Jesus doing here?  He's not just showing us that he is a teacher of parables, he's basically, in a sense, saying “I am wisdom in person and I am calling you to imitate me in my humility and in my gentleness, and if you do that, you are actually going to find peace, you are actually going to find rest; not for your bodies, but for your souls.  You are going to find rest for your souls and you will find the joy that comes from following me.”  And you might think, “how is that really possible?”  Especially if you're going through life and you're experiencing just the burden of labor itself and the worries and the cares and anxieties, for example, of family life and married life, they can get really burdensome and really heavy at times.

What is Jesus talking about here?  How can a yoke be light?  Well, one thing that is important to remember here is that the word yoke, zygos here, a number of scholars have pointed this out, is that ordinarily a yoke would be carried by two animals, it would be carried by two oxen.  You would harness, you would yoke, two oxen together and then they would plow the field.  So what happens there is the animals, in a sense, aid one another as they carry the burden of the yoke.  So one interpretation of Jesus’ words here is that what he's inviting us into is not here, you take my yoke upon you, I am going to give it to and you carry it by yourself; but that I will help you shoulder the yoke.  In other words, it is almost like the image of Simon of Cyrene.  What does he do?  He helps Jesus carry the cross.  They carry the cross together to Calvary, and that's really what I think Jesus is inviting us into here.  He doesn't want to just be humble and gentle himself, he wants us to take up the yoke of humility and gentleness and he will help us to carry our burdens and to carry our crosses so that we can follow him.  And when we do that, what we will discover is rest for our souls.  Because the reality is that his yoke is the only yoke that is light, his is the only one that is really easy.  It doesn’t look easy, but the reality is that the only true yoke that is easy to carry is the one that Christ helps us to carry, because he is going to shoulder it with us.  Most of us try to go though this life just carrying all of our burdens by ourselves, and that's what makes them so hard.  Christ here offers to carry it with us in imitation of him.



Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre

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