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, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.Matthew 11:28-30
Like me, you’ve probably heard this passage quite a few times. But what exactly did Jesus mean when he said this? What the heck is this “yoke” he’s talking about? You may – like, admittedly, me – typically just skim over this word. But when I read along and listened to this passage during this past Sunday’s Gospel, I felt the Lord calling me to look into this, to figure out precisely what he meant by these words. Because, after all, words are pretty specific and powerful, and Jesus certainly chose his words carefully… there must be a meaning there!
So what is a yoke? According to Merriam-Webster, a yoke is “a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (such as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together” – essentially, a sort of harness used by two animals to make it easier to carry a load. It serves to join the pair together, to balance the load, so that the two can pull TOGETHER, as a joint unit.
Now, knowing this, take a look back at this passage. Sit with the words for a moment. Let them echo within your heart.
Come to me… I will give you rest… Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… my yoke is easy, and my burden light.Matthew 11:28-29
The Lord is calling us to join together with him. We are to allow him to be our partner, being with him and pulling together towards God our Father and towards His Heavenly Kingdom.
The beautiful thing about this is that the Lord desires us. He desires a relationship with us, a special intimacy. He desires to take on the weights we carry, the struggles we face, the despair we feel… to unite our suffering with his suffering on the cross. He constantly calls out to us: “Come,” inviting us into this union with him, under this same yoke – Christ’s yoke.
As we take up the Lord’s yoke and walk along this journey of life, we learn from the Lord. We make mistakes, we sin… and then we experience God’s indescribable, generous mercy. We fall short of what we think others’ expectations are for us… and then we realize that God is always there for us, loving us and genuinely caring for us, no matter how many times we fail. We turn our backs from God… and then we recognize that even when we’re not holding on to Him, He’s always holding on to us.
I strongly believe God always knows what He’s doing. As I was writing this, I received an email with this quote from Blessed Fr. Solanus Casey: “Do not pray for easy lives… pray to be stronger people.” Which relates perfectly to this topic! Christianity – following the Lord, believing in him, letting him walk with us – does not mean we will live a life without burdens, without struggles, without pain. It means taking up our yokes, knowing that there will be difficulties, but that there will also be rest and peace through Christ, because he is there helping and supporting us, every step of the way. And the yoke of Christ is liberating. Why? Because of his victory over sin and death and all evil. Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” When we believe in the Lord, when we proclaim his goodness and his love and his salvific work on the cross, we are saved. We are free from the oppression of sin and the chains of the devil. We are able to rest in the Lord’s presence and live in his love – his beautiful, neverending love.
So, brothers and sisters, believe. Trust in the Lord and trust in all his promises. Place your heart, your whole being, your life, in his hands. Listen to his call: lay down your burdens, humble yourself before him, and place everything at his feet. For he will come: healing what pains us, comforting what stresses us, loving every single part of us. He will give us rest.