by Fr. Tommy Lane
Jesus makes two appeals in the Gospel today (Matt 11:28-30) which is among the best known passages in the Gospels. Jesus’ first appeal, “Come to me” promises those who respond, “I will give you rest” and his second appeal, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” promises those who respond, “you will find rest for yourselves.” The appeal is made to those who labor and are burdened. Then there is one final promise, “my yoke is easy and my burden light.” Taking a yoke upon yourself was rabbinic language symbolizing acceptance of the master’s teaching. Personified Wisdom in Eccles/Sir (51:26) invites people to put their necks under her yoke. Jesus is inviting us to be his students and the Greek word mathētēs (μαθητής) translated in the Gospels as “disciple” means to be a student. Jesus’ disciples are students in his school, who put their necks under the yoke of his teaching. And we know from elsewhere in the Gospels that the yoke of Jesus’ teaching compared to the yoke of the scribes and Pharisees of that time is indeed easy and is a light burden.
During the Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in 2007, Pope Benedict said during his homily,
At times we would like to say to Jesus: Lord, your yoke is far from light. Indeed, it is tremendously heavy in this world. But then looking at the One who bore everything—who tried out on himself obedience, weakness, suffering, all the darkness—, then these complaints of ours fade. His yoke is that of loving with him. And the more we love him and with him become loving people, the lighter becomes his seemingly burdensome yoke.
So for Pope Benedict, Christ’s yoke is love. I very much like that way of looking at the yoke of Christ. Without love, Christ’s yoke might seem heavy and a burden but when we love Christ and allow ourselves to be loved by Christ, his yoke is easy and his burden light. Every thought and motivation can be brought under the yoke of Christ by loving him. For priests, this can be seen symbolically as we put on the chasuble to celebrate Mass. Until the liturgical changes in the 1960s, the priest recited a prayer in Latin while putting on each individual item of his vestments before Mass. The prayer associated with putting on the chasuble linked it with the yoke of Jesus and could be translated,
O Lord, who has said, “My yoke is sweet and my burden light,” grant that I may so carry it as to merit your grace.
For priests, the yoke of Christ is also our ministry to those who are entrusted to our care. The yoke of Christ is our love for his people leading them to Christ bringing them closer to Christ. Pope Benedict spoke about this in a homily to new archbishops in St. Peter’s Basilica on June 29th 2011 during Mass for the imposition of their pallia,
Christ’s yoke is identical with his friendship. It is a yoke of friendship and therefore “a sweet yoke”, but as such it is also a demanding yoke, one that forms us. It is the yoke of his will, which is a will of truth and love. For us, then, it is first and foremost the yoke of leading others to friendship with Christ and being available to others, caring for them as shepherds.
The yoke of Christ is remaining with him in friendship and love. The yoke of Christ is identifying with him in every aspect of our lives and ministry. Taking the yoke of Christ upon us hopefully means that when people see us, they see Christ in some way. Taking the yoke of Christ upon us is sometimes taking up our cross after Christ but in love because of our friendship with Christ. Even on those occasions when the yoke of Christ can seem like the cross of Christ, with his friendship and love we can hopefully feel his yoke as easy and light.
We see a similar idea expressed in different language in the first reading (Year 2: Isa 26:7-19).
The way of the just is smooth;
the path of the just you make level. (Isa 26:7)
The reading expresses the desire of someone who is in love with God, someone who would find the yoke of God easy and light,
Your name and your title
are the desire of our souls.
My soul yearns for you in the night,
yes, my spirit within me keeps vigil for you. (Isa 26:8-9)
Life lived under God brings blessings, not a burden, and so the reading says,
O Lord, you mete out peace to us (Isa 26:12)
Above all in the last line of the reading today we see that God’s yoke is easy and light when the text promises the resurrection,
your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. (Isa 26:19)
God wants what is best for us, life with him for ever in heaven. Indeed his yoke is easy and his burden light.
© Fr. Tommy Lane 2018