Reflection for Sunday – July 9, 2017
Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30
Preacher: Cathy Kamp
“Yokes” were very important farming equipment in Jesus’ day. They made the work of oxen easier because the burden of weight was shared between two animals. But they had to fit just right to avoid harming the animals. They were tailor-made. There is a legend – some say that Jesus was himself not only a carpenter but a master yoke-maker. If this were true it sheds a whole new light on this Sunday’s Gospel when Jesus says, “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.”
Why would Jesus be saying this? Clearly, the people to whom he was speaking felt burdened, maybe even frustrated or disappointed. They were trying to get it right but, notoriously, keep failing. He’s just told them that they have a better chance of understanding God if they approach God with the eyes of “little ones,” rather than trying to understand or “know” God intellectually. Even more important they cannot let their earthly wisdom or hard-earned knowledge get in the way of knowing the merciful ways of God. This requires childlike trust and the willingness to let go.
How many clichés tell us that “many hands make light work” or everything is “better together?” All very true when working and sharing with others, but how much more true it is when we hand over our burdens to Jesus to carry them with us. And this requires that humble, childlike faith and trust.
No wonder Jesus needed to assure his followers and naysayers alike that his yoke was easy and his burden light! It’s hard to wrap your mind around these concepts that were as foreign in Jesus’ day as they are in ours.
We all struggle on some level with thinking we need to go it alone. It’s not uncommon to attempt going it alone only to face a crisis and then realize the importance of sharing our burdens. Yokes may come in the form of help from family or our community of faith. It is here where we find the face of Jesus. Jesus is never far from us in a crisis. He is, indeed, carrying the burden with us from the other side of the yoke, whether we recognize it or not. Remember, he knew us before the nature of our burdens even became apparent. “My yoke is easy, my burden light.”
Another helpful way of understanding this passage is a deeper look at the translation from Greek of the word “chrestos.” Here it is translated to “easy;” it can also be translated as “well-fitting.” The yoke of Jesus fits well and makes a burden easier to handle. If easy is better translated “well-fitting,” then are our burdens also custom-made for us?
I’ve recently been wrestling with a nuisance health problem. Nothing serious, just a pesky nuisance keeping me from things I enjoy, requiring much more downtime than I like. It has made me aware of how often the health problems and burdens of others can seem so incomprehensible to us. How does that person deal with their cancer so graciously? How can another endure surgery after surgery? How can that family cope with one more loss?
Yet, somehow, each of us takes up the cross we must carry. Each of us somehow manages to carry our burdens. We do not carry the cross alone. We carry what we can. Jesus is on the other side, taking up whatever part we cannot.
Pope Francis says of this passage that the first imperative of Jesus is to “come to me!” The Pope preached, “He addresses the humble and little ones, the poor and the needy because He Himself made Himself little and humble. He understands the poor and the suffering because He Himself is poor and tried by sorrows. Jesus did not follow an easy way to save humanity; on the contrary, his path was painful and difficult.” Jesus knows our burdens and our pains. He is there to lift us up with mercy and compassion, no matter what our misstep or our suffering. And he calls on us to do the same for others.
As always, when we can see ourselves as being in need of the love of Jesus, and recipients of the mercy of Jesus, we are then called to share it with those around us who are in need. So never hesitate to give over your burdens. In many ways, you are called to be the yoke and face of Jesus to others.
Come, let him give you rest.