What Yoke Are You Wearing? (14th Sunday, Year A)
One of the places I love to visit most on vacation is the mountains. I find them inspiring, humbling, and truly awesome. Even though it is strenuous to hike and camp in the wilderness, the rewards of reflecting on God’s beauty are well-worth it. In fact, in just a few weeks, I will be heading to Glacier National Park to camp and hike for 10 days. A few years ago I was in Yosemite National Park and the highlight of that trip was to climb Half-Dome, a 16-mile hike to the top of a massive rock formation carved out by glaciers ages ago. Leading up to this adventure, I was exploring some of the shorter trails in the park. But there was a major problem. I had bought some new boots in St. Louis that didn’t fit quite right. They were quality footwear but they were just a little too small. Even after a short hike of 4 or 5 miles, I would be unable to go any further because of how badly my feet hurt. There was no way I could make it to Half-Dome using them. Even though I had trained and was fit enough in terms of cardio and leg strength, the ill-fitting shoes made it impossible. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a pair of boots for the rest of my time in the park which enabled me to enjoy the remaining hikes, including Half-Dome.
The importance of a good fit is present in our gospel today. Jesus tells us: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
What is this talk about yokes and burdens? Jesus is using an image that would have been immediately familiar to the people of his time and anyone who worked with beasts of burden. Throughout human history, even in poorer countries today, much of the power and muscle needed for farming and logging came from oxen. These animals are capable of hauling huge loads and they can budge heavy objects that seem unmovable. The secret to the power of these magnificent animals is in the way they are harnessed to the load. For oxen, they are most often tied to their load by something called a yoke. A yoke is a curved object carved from hardwood that fits over the neck and head of the animals. It allows the weight of the load to be distributed evenly over the shoulders of one or two animals so it can be pulled safely and quickly.
But yokes are not one-size-fits-all, just like there is no one boot type or size that fits every hiker. As a matter of fact, each yoke would address the needs and unique qualities of the animal that was going to use it. The carpenter would come and take general measurements. Then he would carve a yoke that was roughly the right size and shape. After this, the ox would be brought in and the yoke set on its shoulders. From here, the carpenter would fine-tune the yoke until it fit the animal perfectly. Because of this, oxen could carry incredible loads over many years.
Christ sees the heavy loads people carry and he has compassion on them. He knows the weight of human suffering and he offers relief and rest. Christ lightens the load of the heavy burdens this world imposes and he gives us hope in the midst of our suffering. The heaviness of the world weighs us down; its yoke never fits us correctly. But how often we allow this weight to be hung around our own necks!!! Often we give in to sin, we do our own will instead of God’s and we become weary and heavily burdened. Worldly concern, suffering, and the effects of sin can discourage and overwhelm us; they seem like a load too heavy to budge.
In today’s gospel, Jesus promises us relief when he says, “Come unto me – all you who are tired – all you who are feeling drained -all you who are feeling empty – all you who are burdened by a sense of disappointment – all you who are exhausted by the struggles of life and weighed down by your sense of duty, of what is right and wrong- and I will give you rest. I will cleanse you – I will fill you with new joy – and establish you in a relationship with God that will give you new life – now and in the world to come.
That is the first part of what Jesus had to say. The second part is this: “take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” This seems like a contradiction! We might be thinking, “How can I rest with a yoke on my shoulders?” After all a burden is still a burden – a yoke is still a yoke. However, Jesus is telling us that there is no such thing as a burden-free life; life on earth always has its difficulties; the question is what KIND of burden will we choose to carry.
Jesus has no interest in unburdening us completely from the cares and concern of life; that is simply impossible. Rather, he is interested in lifting the burdens off our backs that suck the life out of us, so he can replace them with something better fitting. He is interested in removing the harness that we forge for ourselves and that the world forges for us, so he can place around our necks his own yoke which ironically brings new life, new energy, and new joy.
His yoke fits perfectly; it enables us to carry loads that we thought were impossible to move. Christ promises rest from the constant worrying and struggle this world imposes. If we seek his forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation, if we are wiling to come and place our trust in him, our burdens of mind and spirit are healed and we are given rest from our anger, guilt, and shame.
So what are we waiting for??? If you feel weary and burdened with the concerns of this world, if you feel heavy in mind and in spirit, if the challenges of life seem more than you can bear, then run to Christ who promises to make them lighter. Allow him to remove that worldly yoke and replace it with one of his own. He assures us that it is light, easy, and we know that it is fashioned out of love and compassion.
Categories: ARCHIVE Fr. Kevin Schroeder