by Father Mike Stubbs
Taking on a yoke might not appeal to us freedom-loving Americans, especially just after we have celebrated our biggest national holiday, Independence Day.
But that is exactly what Jesus invites us to do in Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mt 11:25-30: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”
We might envision this yoke as a heavy and cumbersome weight on our shoulders, which slows us down and prevents us from moving about freely.
But in using this image of a yoke, Jesus is drawing upon a rich biblical tradition which paints a very different picture. It is positive, rather than negative.
That is what we hear in Sir 51:23-24, 26: “Come aside to me, you untutored, and take up lodging in the house of instruction; How long will you be deprived of wisdom’s food, how long will you endure such bitter thirst? . . . Submit your neck to her yoke, that your mind may accept her teaching. ”
The wisdom that the Book of Sirach speaks of is God’s wisdom. According to Sirach, God’s wisdom is perfectly expressed in the Law of God, the Torah. Those who bind themselves to God in the covenant of Moses submit to the teachings of the Torah.
Those teachings give guidance and direction to one’s life. While they place certain limitations on us, the overall result is fullness of life.
Similarly, Jesus offers his teachings as a kind of yoke. His teachings express a new wisdom, which is also the wisdom of God. That is why he says: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”
When we learn those teachings, agree to follow them and bind ourselves to Jesus Christ in this new covenant, we accept the limitations that they impose upon us. We take the yoke on ourselves. At the same time, we welcome the fullness of life that those teachings bring us. That is why Jesus promises: “You will find rest for yourselves.”
This is the rest which follows after a long day of labor out in the fields of the Lord. It is the rest which comes from fulfilling the will of the Master. It is the rest which we will enjoy in the eternal Sabbath at the end of time. This is the rest which Jesus promises in the Gospel reading:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”