First Reading: Zec 9:9-10; Psalm: 145. R. v. 1; Second Reading: Rm 8:9. 11-13; Gospel: Mt 11:25-30
HIS YOKE IS EASY
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:29-30).
A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plough or cart that they are to pull. It is traditionally an agricultural tool used in non-mechanised farming. Jesus grew up in an environment accustomed to farming; and so it became handy for him to use images related to agriculture to convey his message in a very intelligible manner.
During the preparatory stage of the planting season, farmers would necessarily plough the earth to turn up the soil before sowing. Traditionally, a plough is usually pulled by two oxen through the aid of the yoke fastened around their necks. An ox can be yoked to plough the soil alone. But it is more common, convenient, faster, and less burdensome to plough the soil with two oxen. In either way, the burden of the ox or oxen may appear as though it is the yoke fastened around their necks; but in actual sense, it is the plough which they pull that is their real burden. When two oxen are saddled with a yoke, the yoke becomes a burden to them. But when afterwards a plough is attached to the yoke; the yoke becomes easy to carry and makes the plough a light burden to pull.
What Jesus is telling us in today’s gospel is that the reason we are so weighed down, enervated and almost crushed by the burdens we carry is because we chose to carry our burdens alone just like a single yoked ox. And this is why he is inviting us today saying; “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus wants us to unfasten our yoke and take upon our shoulders his own yoke which is easy to carry. For when he partners with us our burden becomes light and even sweet to bear. Recall the encounter of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace when someone like the Son of God became the fourth man in the fire (Dn 3:25). They were not consumed by the flame.
We must bear in mind that it is Jesus who invites us to come to him with our burdens. This goes without saying that Jesus understands our burdens more than anyone else because he is in touch with our human nature as God-made-man. No one perfectly understands human suffering like Jesus. Also, Jesus’ promise to make our burdens light further accentuates an unmissable message that we must all come to terms with the reality of human suffering. Jesus did not promise to take our burdens away but to make them light.
Since human suffering is inevitable, how then should we bring our burdens to Jesus? The day we became Christian is the day we chose to carry our burdens alongside Jesus. So there is no other way to bring our burdens to Jesus than to believe that Jesus is next to us with the yoke of his grace to lend us a hand to pull through our burdens and problems. This yoke of Jesus is nothing but God’s divine grace. Remember that two yoked oxen make the work more convenient, faster and less burdensome. Jesus therefore is telling us that though our burdens may be overwhelming but with the help of his grace we would pull through.
This might remind us of the words of St Paul; “‘a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2Cor 12:7-9).
I may not know the burdens that are weighing us down right now. But one thing I know is that God’s grace is sufficient for us. The many challenges we overcame in life are not attributable to the strength of our power but the help of God. No one understands the anatomy of God’s grace as to know how exactly it works. But upon reflection, we would discover that there were numerous challenges in life that we still cannot explain how we managed to pull through them. Like how we managed to survive the Covid-19. How we managed to survive that cancer. Or how we are even managing to fend for our families amidst the economic hardship. How Jesus makes our yoke easy and our burdens light is something we cannot completely explain but we know he does that.
On another note, we cannot completely overlook the complicity of man in the emergence of human suffering. The many burdens we carry today are man-made. The economic hardship in many countries today is the resultant effect of the ineptitude and corrupt practices of incompetent and selfish political leaders. Crimes such as assault, rape, robbery, homicide, murder suicide, and mass shooting are burdens that man chose to thrust upon his fellow man. Bribery, forceful extortion, gender harassment, nepotism, arson and xenophobia are all man-made crimes. False teachings and prophecies, fake miracles, and sexual scandals among Churches have destroyed many happy homes today. Some spouses have become a burden to their families through the life of indiscipline, irresponsibility and unfaithfulness. Even some children have become the headache of their parents.
Perhaps we would give Jesus lesser work to do if we do well to play our parts responsibly. Life would be less burdensome if we had the good of one another at heart. So we can see that we can also collaborate with Jesus to make each other’s burden light if we all acted justly.
Another way we can also collaborate with Jesus to lighten the burdens of one another is to choose to play the role of the chain that connects the yoke to the plough. Although the grace of God is sufficient for us but people need our emotional and psychological support to maintain their mental health in certain situations. There are burdens that are capable of making us lose our sanity but for the support of those around us. So we cannot underestimate the help of some human factors and the roles that we need to play in cushioning the effect of human suffering. We all need each other.
The burden in our world is enormous. Today’s gospel therefore offers us the opportunity to reflect on how much we trust and believe that Jesus is capable of lightening our burdens. Do we believe that the yoke of Jesus is easy? Do we believe that his grace is sufficient for us in our challenging moments? Are we the creators of people’s burden? Or are we collaborators with Jesus in lessening the burdens in our world? Where do we belong? A sincere answer is enough for us to reflect on for the day.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, we believe that you can lighten our burdens. Please, give us your grace to become collaborators in lessening the burdens of one another through selflessness and love. Amen.