14th Sunday in the Ordinary Week. July 9, 2017 [Matthew 11:25-30]
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. (Mat 11:29)”
Yoke is a device, usually of wood, placed on the shoulder of animals or persons to carry a burden. In agricultural settings, a yoke is used to pull a plow to make a furrow on the ground so that the soil will be ready for the seed planting. But, a yoke can be used also to drag a cart and transport various goods. Because its primary function is to carry a load or burden, a yoke turns to be a symbol of responsibility, hard work, and obligation. In our seminary in Manila, a leader among the brothers is called a decano. In the beginning of the formation year, we elect our decano, and as he assumes his responsibility, he ceremonially receives a wooden yoke from the outgoing decano. The yoke reminds him of responsibility and great task that he has to endure through the year.
In the Bible, a yoke often symbolizes a means of oppression and slavery. The yoke reminds the Israelites how they lived as slaves in Egypt. The yokes were placed upon their shoulders and they have to carry heavy materials, and to work for the construction of Egyptian colossal buildings. At the time of Jesus, the yoke has slightly evolved to symbolize tedious religious obligation. When Jesus criticized some of the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders for putting so much emphasis on the details of the Law and rituals, and forgetting what truly the essentials, Jesus called this practice as the yoke of the Pharisees.
However, in today’s Gospel we learn that Jesus asks us to carry His yoke. Wait! Does it mean like the Pharisees, Jesus also wants us to carry a yoke of burden? Jesus clarifies further that His yoke is easy and my burden is light. So, Jesus’ yoke is just less burdensome compare to that of the Pharisess, yet it is still a yoke, a load. How then we can be truly restful if it is just a matter of changing of yoke?
To understand Jesus’ yoke, we need to know that in ancient Israel, like in our time, there are different kinds of yokes. There is a yoke for a single animal, but there is also a yoke that unites two animals together in pulling the burden. When Jesus speaks about His yoke, He is referring to this yoke for two animals or persons. When we carry the yoke of Jesus, it does not mean that Jesus simply gives us the yoke for us alone to shoulder, but we carry it together with Jesus. It is not a transferring of responsibility, but sharing of the burden. And when we feel tired and exhausted because of the heavy burden, we can rest a while since Jesus is the one who now carries the burden for us. In fact, as a carpenter, He knows best how to make a yoke more convenient to carry. That is the yoke of Jesus.
We are carrying the yoke of life with Jesus. And indeed it is a great consolation for us. We are burdened by so many problems in life and often it is too heavy to bear. Yet, we are never alone. Jesus is bearing the yoke for us, the Church is working together with us, our family and friends are one with us. This gives us rest in trial time, yet when others’ life are heavy, like Jesus, we are also helping in carrying others’ yoke, because it is only one yoke, the yoke of Jesus.
Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi RUseno, Op