14th Sunday - homily
“My yoke is easy, and my burden light”. How many times have we heard this saying of our Lord’s and wondered, ‘what is a yoke?’ Is it an egg yolk? No, it’s a harness which joins two animals together, mainly oxen. We are familiar with a harness for a horse; well, this is for two animals. I was hoping to use a yoke as a prop and do a little show-and-tell, but I didn’t know where the nearest yoke store is. So, I guess just describing it will do! So, it’s a harness that joins together two animals, mainly oxen. We know that oxen are called “beasts of burden”. Why does Jesus use the image of a yoke and it’s burdens?
In biblical terms, “yoke” referred to the Mosaic Law. The Law of Moses consisted of 613 laws! It could have presented a burden for people to live. On top of that, the Scribes and Pharisees had very strict interpretations of the Mosaic Law. They placed great burdens of people with the law and didn’t help them. Jesus says in Matthew 23 that the Scribes and Pharisees laid many burdens “on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them” (v. 4). Jesus is different in that while he does have a demanding law – he fulfills the Law of Moses – he helps people to live the law. He is the King and Savior who is meek that the first reading describes. His yoke is easy and his burden light because he is with his people to help them with their yokes and burdens.
To understand how this applies to our lives, I’d like to go through three situations with the example of forgiveness. The first situation involves someone who has given control to Christ; they have “let go and let God”. Christ is with them in their yoke and is steering it and bearing most of the weight. They go to Him regularly in prayer and in the sacraments. They regularly experience forgiveness. They receive His forgiveness in Confession and regularly forgive others and themselves. It is really Christ who is forgiving through them; it is His grace, strength, and Spirit. That experience of forgiveness removes much burden from their heart. He lifts a great burden from them. They truly experience that his yoke is easy and his burden light.
The second situation involves someone who has not given total control to Christ. They are with Him in his yoke, but want to steer it and take more of the weight of it. They don’t go Him regularly in prayer or in the sacraments. They don’t forgive others or themselves as often, and so their burdens are heavier. Their resentments grow, and anxiety and anger increase in their lives. Their yoke is harder because there is tension. They are taking more of the burden themselves, so it is heavier.
The third situation involves someone who has given no control to Christ. They are steering the yoke by themselves and carrying all of its weight. They don’t go to Christ in prayer or in the sacraments. It has been years since they have been to Confession. It has been years since they have reconciled with God or others. They don’t experience forgiveness on a regular basis. Relationships have been ruined in their family, marriage, and with friends. They have a huge burden in their hearts; it is the burden of pride. It is really living “according to the flesh” as St. Paul writes in the second reading. Their yoke is very hard and their burdens are very heavy because of pride, resentments, and unforgiveness. These may be the greatest burdens on the human heart.
Wherever we are in our relationship with Christ – whether we have given total control to Him, partial control, or no control – He calls us to come to Him. “Come to me all …who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest”. Come to me in Confession. Come to me in the Eucharist. I will lighten your load. “I am meek and humble of heart…my yoke is easy and my burden light”.