Pastoral Message – July 9, 2023
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart…my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
The word “yoke” is the Greek word zugos, referring to a wooden crosspiece fastened over the necks of two animals (usually oxen) and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull, so they could combine their strength to pull a load that would have been too much for one animal to pull alone. The yoke combined the power of the animals and guided them.
Jewish people described living under obedience to the Law as having a yoke upon them. In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees made that load even heavier by adding manmade requirements and regulations on top of the Law of Moses. Generally, the burden felt heavier because they resisted and wanted to go their own way. Yet, when Jesus invites us to take His yoke upon us, He is not adding to our burdens. Rather, he is giving us a gift. When we are yoked to Jesus, He walks with us and shares our burdens. From our perspective, “[His] yoke is easy and [His] burden is light” because He is doing most of the work.
A lone ox pulling the plow carries a weight beyond its strength. The ox carries the heaviness alone and is subject to constant redirection by the farmer holding the reigns. In the same way, we each have an earthly yoke around our necks that makes us weary. On our own, we do not have the strength to bear the burden. When we trudge through life alone, without God’s support or guidance, we labor and often head in the wrong direction. While we may not like the idea of a yoke around our necks, we should also be grateful that Jesus invites us to join Him under His yoke so that He can help us to share the load. To take Christ’s yoke upon us is to yield ourselves to the Lord and to obey the Gospel.
Going our own way does not bring rest in our souls. Working on our own to push our own agendas can be overwhelming! Letting God have full control gives our souls peace. It is a tremendous opportunity to be yoked together with Him in the service of the Father! Taking His yoke means that we let go of our yoke that was weighing us down with pride, resentment, anger, bitterness and shame. Instead, taking His yoke gives us freedom from these things as we humble ourselves before Him.
Most of struggle daily with pride, stubbornness, and self-reliance. We’re taught to be strong, pursue our goals, take care of ourselves. When our human frailties take over, we tend to veer in our own direction. Questions and doubts may cause us to change paths or think there’s an easier way. But when we stay yoked to the Savior and accept His help, we move in His same direction. Staying in step with Him.
Through sharing His yoke we can experience His light burden and easy yoke.
This is not to say that His yoke will allow us to avoid all difficulties in this life. Being diligent, obedient Catholics will not relieve us of suffering. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But, I have overcome the world.” Jesus knew we would face trouble, so He welcomes our reliance on Him. We can replace our overwhelmed lives with God’s peace when we take His yoke and give our burdens to Jesus.
The “wise and the learned” (also known as the proud and the arrogant) scribes and Pharisees would never submit to Jesus’ yoke. They have rejected Jesus’ preaching and the significance of his mighty deeds. Yet, the simple, faithful childlike have accepted them. Acceptance is granted to those who are open to receive it and refused to the arrogant.
When we allow Jesus to put His own yoke on us, the way a farmer would put one on his livestock, we give Jesus control and let Him direct our efforts. Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus insists that He is gentle. He has not come to add to their burdens but to give them rest for their souls. However, Jesus is not offering a “free ride.” His yoke is still a yoke: it still comes with the duty of cooperation and obedience. However, John writes that obedience to the God we love is not burdensome because Jesus carries the ultimate burden of our sins and provides power in the Holy Spirit to carry out His will.
There, under the yoke of Jesus, we understand that when God is really in control of my life and we submit ourselves to His will, we find rest. He is leading our lives and we are learning to be thankful for all things because they are His perfect will for me. “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God concerning you.” Jesus tells us that He is “meek and humble of heart” and He invites us to follow Him in that attitude.
The kind of humility Jesus is talking about here was described well by a former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple: “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.”