Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
Today, we hear an agrarian term, but it has nothing to do with chickens. In our gospel, our Lord says to us: “My yoke is easy…” But he’s not talking about an egg recipe. In the original text, the word he actually uses is ζυγός in Greek, which has the Latin counterpart, iugum; in Persian, yug; in German, Joch; and in English, yoke.
That word, yoke does however relate to livestock. It has the root meaning of to join or unite. A yoke is a wooden beam that typically goes across the shoulders of an ox. It’s used to join or unite it to a farming implement, like a plow, or wagon, or cart. It can be used with a single ox or with multiple oxen.
It’s custom-fit individually for an animal, since it needs to conform to the shape of its shoulders. When uniting two cattle together, a yoke allows them to cooperate side-by-side; balancing the load between them while plowing or pulling, and also allowing them to stand quietly together without fighting when at rest.
When working, a yoke allows the more veteran animal to lead, while bearing the heavier burden. The lesser experienced animal follows along with an alleviated load, until it becomes habituated to the work and can pull its full weight.
Last Sunday, from the previous chapter of Matthew, we heard our Lord say: “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me”.
It’s no accident that a yoke and a cross are both made of wood, and that they both imply a burden. But the yoke of which our Lord speaks is different. “My yoke is easy, and my burden, light,” says the Lord. Even though its relation to the Cross is unmistakable, the mention of a yoke gives us a more consoling perspective: the cross that you and I bear throughout our labor in life is not one that we carry alone; our Lord himself carries this burden upon his shoulders. And as the veteran between us, he carries the heavier portion.
He embraces the cross as his own first. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves…”
As a wooden yoke is carved to suit individual cattle, the Cross that you and I bear is also tailor-made for you and me. No one else can carry this burden. It’s not meant for anyone else.
But we do it joyfully because it is our link to Christ. We are yoked to him precisely by the cross that we bear. Our Lord is at work, and to be with him means to also be at work. Through that labor, we also express our love for neighbor, as Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ… (cf. Col. 1:24a).
What could possibly be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? Nothing… except our participation in it. The only thing that could be lacking in the yoke of Christ is when you and I fail to embrace our share of the burden.
If we want to be with Jesus, it must be by being yoked to him. That yoke—or cross—means that we share everything with Christ. We live and die with him—as Saint Paul writes to the Romans: “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (cf. Rm. 6:8). Our Lord will certainly fulfill his promise, again as we heard last Sunday: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” and in another place, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you also may be” (cf. Jn. 14:3b).
How does this work in practice? Think of any burden that you and I might bear; be it our work, our responsibilities, maybe other people—maybe ourselves, when we’re afflicted with physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual difficulties.
Trying to wrestle with these burdens apart from Christ is like an ox being tied directly to a plow with a rope. That load would be very choking, painful, chafing, unbalanced, maybe even lethal.
But when we interface with that burden through the Cross—our yoke with Christ—then it’s easy and the burden light, and we find rest for ourselves. That “burden” can even become a source of contemplation and prayer.
The yoke of Christ is the totality of our life of faith, which can be very tailored for you and for me, the way wood is carved for cattle. This yoke consists of the sacraments: baptism, confirmation, confession, Eucharist, matrimony, holy orders, and the anointing of the sick. The sacraments empower us to carry our burden.
How this yoke is tailored for you and me is how we choose to live out and participate in the sacraments.
When it comes to marriage, it’s not often these days in the United States that we enter into arranged marriages. We can choose who we’re going to marry. Last night, I was at a wedding reception, and during the night, the MC had all the married couples get up and dance. He dismissed them from the floor based on the number of years each couple had been married. The longest married couple was married for forty-eight years, so they were the last standing on the floor. The MC asked them about the secret of staying married for so long. The wife replied with an authenticity that couldn’t be denied: “Just… hold… on…” and the husband shared, “Compromise, compromise, compromise…”. I’ve asked my mother before the secret to staying married so long, and she said: “Just don’t talk to each other…”. See? Marriage is custom-made to everyone.
The priesthood is the same way. There are countless dioceses and religious orders throughout the world. Any priest can find a place to belong.
With regard to the Eucharist, we have different Mass times throughout the weekend, each where their own character. Our Saturday evening mass is somewhat charismatic. Our Sunday, 8:30 a.m. Mass is more akin to a praise and worship Mass. Our 11 a.m. Mass is similar to may you might find on the mainland; we have a singing Church lady. And our 7 p.m. Mass is more solemn and integrates chanted Latin Mass parts. We have a 3 p.m. Mass every third Sunday of the month, where the Mass readings and other parts are in Pohnpeian. We cast a wide umbrella here at Holy Family.
The Church also has countless devotions that can enrich the sacraments for us, that can seem to cater to every possible intention. There are different ways of praying that can satisfy the pickiest person. There’s an academic tradition of the Church and an intellectual dimension to our faith that can answer the most obstinate objection. The possibilities are endless.
Try it on for size. Sift through all the great riches that the Church has to offer, and you’ll see. There is a Cross made for each of us, by which life becomes easy, and even enjoyable. Apart from that Cross—apart from the yoke of Christ—life descends into misery, the soul becomes unhappy, and even desirable things can become a great burden and a sting to conscience.
Through the grace of the Mass, may each of us find peace in the yoke of Christ. God bless you.
Oxen resting, by John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925) [Public Domain]