The Gospel from Thursday’s daily Mass contains memorable but often misunderstood lines:
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest … Take my yoke upon you … For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.
The most important word in this sentence is the word “my.” Jesus says, my yoke is easy; my burden is light.
What is a yoke? It’s a wooden truss that makes it easier to carry a heavy load by distributing the weight across a wider part of the body or by allowing the weight to be shared by two or more people or animals. In the picture above, the woman is able to carry the heavy water more easily with the weight distributed across her shoulders rather than in her hands. The load is eased by involving more parts of the body. Yokes are also used to join two animals and help them work together in pulling a load.
What is Jesus saying? First, He is saying that He has a yoke for us. That is, He has a cross for us. Notice that Jesus is not saying that there is no yoke or cross in following Him. There is a cross that He allows, and He allows it for a reason and for a season.
Easy? Jesus says that the cross he has for us is “easy.” The Greek word χρηστὸς (chrestos) is better translated as “well fitting,” “suitable,” or even “useful.” In effect, the Lord is saying that the yoke he has for us is suited to us; it fits us well and has been carefully chosen so as to be useful for us. God knows that we need some crosses in order to grow. He knows what those crosses are. He knows what we can bear and what we are ready for. Yes, His yoke for us fits us well.
But notice again that little word: “my.” The cross or yoke that Jesus has for us is well suited and useful for us. The problem comes when we start adding to that weight with things of our own doing. We put wood on our shoulders that God never put there and never intended for us. We make decisions without asking God. We undertake projects, launch careers, accept promotions, and even enter marriages without ever discerning if God wants this for us. And sure enough, before long our life is complicated and burdensome; we feel pulled in many different directions. But this is not the yoke of Jesus; this is largely the yoke of our own making. Of course it is not easy nor does it fit well, because Jesus didn’t make it.
Don’t blame God; simplify. Be very careful before accepting commitments and making big decisions. Ask God. It may be good, but not for you. It may help others, but destroy you. Seek the Lord’s will. If necessary, seek advice from a spiritually mature person. Consider your state in life; consider the tradeoffs. Balance the call to be generous with the call to proper stewardship of your time, talent, and treasure. Have proper priorities. It is amazing how many people put their career before their vocation. They accept promotions, take on special assignments, and think more about money and advancement than their spouse and children. The burdens increase and the load gets heavy when we don’t ask God or even consider how a proposed course of action might affect the most precious and important things in our lives.
Jesus’ final advice, then, is this: Take my yoke and only my yoke. Forsake all others. Simplify.
So stop “yoking around.” Take only His yoke. If you do, your burdens will be lighter. Jesus says, “Come and learn from me. I will not put heavy burdens on you. I will set your heart on fire with love. And then, whatever I do have for you, will be a pleasure for you to do. Because, what makes the difference is love.” Love lightens every load.
Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: There’s a Yoke to Be Carried in Following Jesus – Make Sure It’s Jesus’ Yoke, Not Yours