Daily Archives: July 6, 2014

What’s this yoke Jesus speaks of?

This is the homily I gave for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, cycle A, today at my parish of St. Mary in Trenton, Illinois. 

The readings assigned for this Sunday can be found at the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops web site by using this link
Readings for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Hearing what Jesus means when he says
“Take up my yoke and learn from me,
I’ll give you rest.”

Lot’s of people wish for a magic pill that would take all the work out of weight loss. Nobody likes to diet, counting calories while exercising several times a week! It would be so nice if a person could take a pill and poof, the flab is gone without the sacrifice or suffering of diet and exercise.

Sometimes Christians approach the scripture where Jesus says “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” in a way similar to the dream of a magical diet pill! If the Christian has enough faith and sincerely prays, shouldn’t all the Christian’s problems go away without effort because Jesus promises he’ll give the believer rest?

  • Father, I pray and pray and was taught God is loving but why does Jesus not find me a job? I’m not sleeping and full of worry!
  • Father, I pray and pray and believe Jesus’ word with all my heart but why does Jesus seem to ignore my request to not suffer arthritis or help me walk better as I grow older?
  • You know, I pray for strength, but my family problems are just wearing me out, priest! Where is this rest Jesus says he’ll give me?

Sometimes Christians think that Jesus’ promise to give rest to the weary is like a magic pill that will remove hardship from life without effort on the part of the Christian. The rest or contentment Jesus promises comes with a reminder that there’s work involved in finding the peace of mind he promises. To get to the place of rest you’ve got to walk with Jesus at your side letting him share the load, but not expecting to be relieved of the necessity of work or sacrifice of the cross.

Remember, Jesus couples his promise of relief with the command, “Take up my yoke and follow me.” The promise of rest is coupled with the instruction “to carry a yoke and be humble in accepting God’s way, not my way.”

2 Oxen with yoke

Oxen with yoke

Do any of us remember what a yoke is? Maybe some of the older folks do. A yoke is a farming tool used to accomplish a task – a beam of wood placed on a couple of beasts of burden like bulls or horses who then are used to plow the field. A yoke can be a stick of wood to help in carrying a heavy load like a couple of buckets of water so fewer trips to the well would be necessary.

woman with yoke carrying buckets of water

Woman with yoke carrying buckets of water

The Yoke of Christ is the cross beam used for his crucifixion, the tool that accomplished the work of our salvation. When Jesus says “take my yoke upon you he is saying “Take up the cross.”  He was saying “Walk with me but I’ll carry the most weight, the bulk of the burden.

By the cross Jesus has accomplished the work of defeating all that burdens us in this life. Yet, we are invited to share in his sacrifice, with the knowledge that the hard work pays off in the end! Our sacrifice, in union with Jesus is a sharing in the salvation of the world that he accomplished through the yoke placed on his shoulders like a beast of burden.

Here’s what Jesus promises…
We can endure the hurts of this life because we know Jesus has completed the work, the chore of defeating anything that would destroy life. At the right time, Jesus will reveal the new us to ourselves that was gained by sharing the difficult task of living with our sufferings in the humble hope that Jesus knows what he’s talking about.

Christ carrying the cross by Lorenzo Lotto, 1526

Christ carrying the cross by Lorenzo Lotto, 1526

His yoke, the cross of this life’s suffering, the cross of sacrificing ourselves for the sake of family and friends and those in need isn’t too heavy to carry because Jesus carried it for us, already. Jesus promises those who voluntarily yoke themselves to him that, together, that his strength will be there to get us through anything that comes our way. This is the rest, the peace of mind and heart he promises.

Jesus says something else in this Gospel about children and yokes. Faith is not that complicated. Faith is so simple that a child can do it. Adults sometimes spend too much time trying to find reasons and create theologies and explain things that just are. I’m not talking about being a Pollyanna fool but a person that accepts life has to have crosses but that crosses don’t have to defeat a person. That hard work of the cross of Jesus can be a source of strength.

Children get it…they trust that parents will love them, provide, and protect. They don’t get too wrapped up in the details of how mom and dad are going to get food on the table or give them a place to live. They just trust that mom and dad will figure it out.

Our God is the divine parent who will do what it takes out of love that we need to trust with the love a child has for mom and dad. The proof that God will do what it takes to get us to that place of peace and contentment and not let anything defeat us is the cross. In his taking up his yoke, Jesus trusted. He did not attack his executioners or resort to treats or bargaining with God. He didn’t demand of Father, let’s do this some other way. He humbly said “not my will but your will be done. You’ll get me through this.”

Our savior took up his cross believing the worst thing that could happen to a person won’t defeat him because the father could be trusted even if in his humanness he didn’t know how the Father would make things work for his good.

That’s how we’ll find the peace of mind and heart we seek in the here and now…

Not through some magic trick of God interfering with the human condition but cooperating with the work Jesus has already done, letting him help us carry our burdens trusting, after the work of a lifetime, Jesus was right. Our diet of self-sacrifice in union with Jesus and God’s mercy has truly made us a new us, that will last for eternity!