July 5, 2023, 6:00 AM

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  Matthew 11:28-30

St. Francis took on the yoke of Christ early in his life. Yet, we never hear him complain. He discovered what we so often miss in our many interpretations of Scripture.

As a very young child, I wondered what a yoke was. I used to sing a Sunday School song that included the words, “His yoke is easy, His burden is light, I found it so, I found it so.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvUvZQwS8Wc  I concluded that God must have liked his eggs over easy, so that the “yolk” stayed soft. Such was the understanding of a child.

Soon after learning that song, I had an opportunity to visit my grandparents on a rural farm in Western Michigan. The farm had no electricity or running water. My grandmother cooked on a woodburning stove. A husband and wife lived on the opposite side of the road, and owned two gigantic oxen which I often visited (and of which I was terrified). I found out that the oxen worked the field by being held together by a yoke, a large wooden bar that connected the heads of the two oxen. When one head moved, the other was forced to move in the same direction. It looked uncomfortable for the oxen. I never wanted to get caught in a yoke or do the work of an ox.

Still later in life, I learned that there was another type of yoke, one that had been used for centuries. (Jeremiah 27:1-2) The yoke consisted of a pole placed over the shoulders of a person, and used for transporting heavy items at the ends of the pole on a person’s back. It made carrying larger loads possible. Again, I was not attracted to the device.

When Matthew quotes Jesus, and talks about us being weary and carrying heavy burdens, I get it. While there may not be physical objects to transport, there are many invisible items that we carry around like rules, laws, responsibilities, and expectations. Why would we want to carry yet another yoke, even if it was assigned by Jesus? How can adding another yoke make anything lighter?

The term “yoke” in Scripture is often connected or associated with slavery. While we may not identify with being slaves, we still are slaves when it comes to not living up to our full potential in Christ. Scripture calls that failure “sin.”

God’s mercy and grace attempted to lift this burden of sin from us when Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. While these rules of living might seem like another cumbersome yoke weighing us down, the commandments are some of the most freeing actions that we can follow. There is freedom and joy when people do not steal from one another, do not have the need to lie, respect the voices of parents, do not kill others, and do not commit adultery. The commandments create a safe space for everyone to become fully who they are without fear.

Jesus would later clarify the joy found in God in the Sermon on the Mount. He described what might be considered the work of carrying a yoke in the Beatitudes. (Matthew 5:3-12) Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted because of righteousness. These people will be comforted, inherit the earth, be shown mercy, see God, and be called children of God. They should rejoice and be glad.

While the world looks upon the yoke as heavy and intolerable, it is not according to Martin Luther. For when carrying the yoke, that person has a good companion who is Christ. He quotes, “With a good companion the singing is good. Two can carry a burden easily, though one alone may not carry it well.”

Indeed, in carrying the yoke of Christ, we find rest for our souls, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Prayers and Blessings,

Fr. John