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The Rabbi’s Yoke

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Dear Family in Christ,

In the Gospel last Sunday, Jesus spoke of the necessity of taking up our cross and following Him. This Sunday, He takes this exhortation a step further: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me...”

The term ‘yoke’ has a couple different meanings, and each of them helps us to understand what Jesus is saying to us. In the literal sense, a yoke was a particularly shaped beam of wood that would typically lay across the shoulders of a pair of oxen, harnessing their power and enabling them to pull a burden/plow that would otherwise be unbearable for a single beast. Figuratively, a man and a woman are said to be ‘yoked’ together in marriage, joining forces to bear the burdens of life together. Lastly, in rabbinic Judaism, a yoke referred to both the teaching and the way of life of the rabbi which his disciples would ‘take upon themselves’ by studying, practice, and imitation.

One of the intentionally puzzling things about this saying of Jesus is that it runs against what seems to be most logical. Jesus offers His yoke to us, and in doing so promises us rest. But for someone who is already heavily burdened and weary (which is a lot of us), the last thing we want to do is to pick up another burden. Shouldn’t Jesus be inviting us to cast off our burdens instead?

Here we arrive at one of the great paradoxes of following Jesus: the easy way is the hard way, and the hard way is the easy way. Run from the sufferings of life, and you will find yourself restless and weary. Try to carry your burdens on your own, in your own way, and they will eventually break you. But yoke yourself to Jesus: imitate His meekness and humility, face your suffering head on, and carry your burdens with Him, and you will find ‘rest for your soul’.

One of the most powerful images of this is captured in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, when Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the cross with Jesus. Initially resistant, Simon experiences a visible conversion and submits to the yoke of Christ. This image, as I see it, captures not only what Jesus is saying in this passage, but the whole of the Christian life. I hope you find it as moving as I do.

God love you,

Father Corso

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