First Reading: ZECHARIAH 9: 9-10
Second Reading: ROMANS 8: 9
Gospel: MATTHEW 11: 25-30
This Gospel is the same as that proclaimed on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. Jesus offers rest to those “who labor and are burdened.” Here’s the deal: if you will accept His “easy yoke” your burden will be light. You did notice that Jesus says “Take my yoke upon you.” It is a voluntary acceptance. By declaring that his “yoke is easy” Jesus means that whatever God offers us is custom-made to fit exactly our individual needs and our abilities. You know the story of the individual who asked God for a different cross. So, Jesus took her to the storehouse of crosses where Sister examined every cross more than once. When she finally chose one Jesus said, “My dear, that is the very cross I already gave you.” Our cross will not fit on anyone else’s shoulders or heart. It is mine alone and if I refuse it, the burden will stay abandoned with Jesus.
The second part of Jesus’ claim is: “My burden is light.” Jesus does not mean that the burden is effortless to carry. It does not mean we are foot-loose and fancy-free. To be a disciple means to come under the discipline of a master. It means voluntarily putting a yoke on one’s shoulders, and walking in a direction set by the master. It just happens to be the direction that the master knows will lead to green pasture, refreshment, peace and true joy. Jerome Kodell describes happiness as a gift from people and events outside ourselves. Joy is a gift of the Spirit and is generated from within when we walk heart to heart with our God. When oxen trudge ahead, they don’t necessarily see the pasture at the end of the trail. All they see is a long, dusty road but that does not stop them. Remember the beasts that toted our 3-story convent up the incline from San Antonio. They plodded onward; the overseer knew the destination, but the animals did not. The yoke, the burden that we take up in love is received from the hands of our loving God, placed on us in love and is meant to be carried in love for love makes even the heaviest burden light. We only need to quiet down for a few moments in the green pasture of prayer and adoration to attune our heart once again to the voice of the Master.
Light burden – easy yoke! You may reply that it sure doesn’t feel that way most of the time. This could be for one of two reasons. One: the yoke seems heavy because we are not allowing the Lord to help us carry the weight – remember Jesus let Simon help him with his cross. Or it may seem heavy because we are not keeping God’s pace. We could be dragging our heels or racing ahead. Either way, we are chafing and straining. A yoke is fashioned for a pair — for a team working together. So we are not yoked alone to pull the plow solo but we are yoked together with Christ to work with Him using His strength. Benedict challenges us in chapter 72 to lovingly carry each other’s burdens: “anticipate one another; patiently endure one another’s burdens, practice the most fervent love, tender charity chastely.”
The yoke chaffs when either member of the team tries to get ahead or lags on the job. – like when community members tug and pull against the group, when common practices are carelessly disregarded. When conflicts are resolved, the yoke once again rests easy – the team, community members, walk side by side with the same aim in view – each lovingly regulating her step to keep pace with her sister.
A second reason the yoke may feel burdensome and cause weariness is that the yoke we are carrying is simply not the Lord’s yoke but one of our own choosing or one we have usurped from another. There are many sources of tiredness, weariness, and fatigue. Physical fatigue may be the most benign. There is the fatigue that comes from stress, fatigue that comes from worry, fatigue that comes not only from worrying about the future, but also worrying about the past and fatigue that comes from trying to be perfect, to be something we are not. Life’s greatest burden is not having too much to do, nor having too much to care about because some of the happiest folk are the busiest and those who care the most. Rather, the greatest burden we have is our constant engagement with the trivial and the unimportant, with the temporary and the passing and with what is ultimately uncontrollable and unpredictable.
The issue in life is not whether we shall be burdened, but with what we shall be burdened. The question is not “Shall we be yoked?” but “To what and with whom shall we be yoked?” What we need, according to this wonderful gospel paradox, is a different yoke: the yoke of Christ. Jesus is interested in lifting off our backs the burdens that drain us and suck the life out of us, so that we are freed to accept the burden he has prepared just for us – the yoke that is guaranteed to give us new life, new energy, new joy. We are called, not only to find inner peace, refreshment and rest for ourselves, but also to live the kind of life through which others, too, may find God’s peace. The solution is easy – as a popular saying goes: “Let go, let God.”