Yokes

Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew contains a short statement of Jesus’:

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.

The first part of this passage is one that I love and I’ve written about it before. The beautiful invitation to rest in Jesus is always comforting and consoling especially at those times when my heart is troubled.

The second part is a little less straightforward because a “yoke” can seem so constraining. In what sense is it “easy” and a “light” burden to be yoked to Jesus? How can a yoke be restful?

A passage written by St. Bonaventure, whose memorial the Catholic Church celebrates today, offers a helpful way to think about Jesus’ words. Bonaventure writes:

By his mysterious grace he delivered you from the devil’s slavery, saying: “Take my yoke upon you” (Mt 11:29) and cast off the yoke of the devil. His yoke is bitter, mine is sweet. His will lead you to eternal torment and pain; mine will bring you to everlasting joy and “quiet resting places.”

Any yoke seems to us to be constraining if our frame of reference is yoke or no yoke. Bonaventure’s statement reminds us, however, that the correct frame of reference is not yoke or no yoke. Rather, it is Christ’s yoke or the devil’s yoke. There is no “neutral,” so to speak; we are tethered to one or the other. (St. Ignatius captured this binary in his meditation on the “Two Standards.”)

No yoke is not an option and so the question is which yoke will we choose? The one that, in Bonaventure’s words, “is false and passing” although it may “by chance bring [us] some delight”? Or the one that, although it may mean suffering humiliation for a time, “brings true joy and leads to eternal salvation”?

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