In a Bible Study based on today’s Gospel passage, a priest started off by asking his parishioners whether they really think that the yoke of Christ is easy, and his burden light. The answer he got was a resounding “No!”
Of course he asked his parishioners to explain. They went on to recount the daily pains and discomforts they suffer in their attempt to be faithful to Christ’s teachings. “I have this problem,” said Elena. “I pray about it constantly and I make all the effort I can, yet I keep falling into the same temptation over and over again.” John spoke about all his efforts to fight an addiction. “I have prayed about it. I have sought help. And I really try. Yet after a few weeks, some times days of apparent success, I find myself falling right back to where I started.”
Many of us can identify with the predicaments of these Bible Study participants. But In today’s Gospel, Jesus offers us a way out and a promise. He says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) The rest He promises is a release from the experience of serving God as a fatigue and a burden. His promised means that our experience of serving God can be transformed into a sweet experience of rest.
But how? Jesus goes on to show us. He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” (verse 29) It looks like we have a problem here! Is Jesus calling on those who are carrying heavy loads to come and add a yoke to their burden? Doesn’t that sound like adding affliction to the afflicted? No. Jesus is asking us to cast away our burdens and take on his yoke. This is because, unlike the burdens we bear, his yoke is easy and his burden light. How can this be? To understand, we need to comprehend more perfectly what the yoke of Christ is – what it means.
Is Christ just saying – take it easy – take a chill pill? That would be to put a Band-Aid on our burdens – and believe me, there is better way of understanding the yoke of Christ.
Among the Jews in the time of Jesus, a yoke was put on the necks of two cattle, so that together they could pull the plough as one. It always takes a pair to work a yoke. When Jesus asks you to take the yoke, you might as well ask who is your yoke-mate – who will be pulling with you. Your yoke-mate is none other than Jesus himself. The yoke, in fact, belongs to him and he only invites you to team up with him. The yoke of Christ is not just a yoke from Christ but also a yoke with him. To take the yoke of Christ is to associate and identify ourselves with him: our destiny with his destiny, our vision with his vision and our mission with his mission. It is to know that we are not pulling the yoke alone and by our power, but together with Christ and by the strength that comes from him. It is to know that Jesus is not just a teacher who gives you homework but also a friend who helps you do it.
There is a story of a man who had a dream. In the dream he was walking along a sandy beach with Jesus and they were replaying all the important moments of his life. The man noticed that for each scene there were two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to him and the other to Jesus. But he also noticed that when they came to the most difficult and trying moments of his life there were only one set of footprints to be seen. The man could not understand this, so he asked Jesus: “Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. Why is it then that during the most difficult periods of my life when I needed you the most you would leave me?” Jesus replied. “My child, I love you and I would never leave you. During the most difficult moments of your life, when you see only one set of footprints, those were the times I carried you.”
We should never forget that we are yoked with Christ. To this end, it helps to start each day with a prayer like this: “Lord, help me to remember that there is no problem I am going to face today that you and I together cannot handle.” This is how the yoke becomes easy and the burden light.