A More Positive Undestanding of Being Yoked

This weekend we welcomed a new pastor and associate pastor to our parish community.  Elena came home from Saturday evening Mass eager to share with me what she loved about the new pastor’s homily. (How often does a homily inspire that in an 18-year-old.)  Sunday morning, I got to hear our new associate pastor speak about the Gospel – the beautiful passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus invites us:

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.

I’ve always been drawn to, and have prayed often with, the first line of that passage. But I’ve never really felt an affinity for the next part.

There are certain words that I feel an almost instinctive initial negative reaction to. “Yoke” is one of them. As someone who used to have a “Question Authority” bumper sticker taped on my office door when I was a young lawyer, my first reaction to “yoke” is: someone is trying to drag me someplace I don’t want to go. But a very different image of “yoke” formed in my mind as I listened to our new associate pastor, Fr. Paul Kubista, during his sermon.

He started by talking about times we ask people to help us and what it is like when they really give the help we need – both in terms of allowing us to accomplish what we were trying to accomplish and in the way they lift our spirits. He then talked about Jesus’ desire to help us carry our burden, his desire to be yoked to us to help us push through, especially in difficult times.

I had never before thought of the yoke image in this way, of Jesus yoking himself to us to help us with our burdens.

Fr. Paul then talked about the fact that Jesus also challenges us, out of his desire to transform us to be more and more like him. As he spoke, the image that formed in my mind of being yoked with Jesus, was not that of being dragged somewhere, so much as being gently coaxed when I start to veer off the path. There is challenge, to be sure, since there is much in us that needs to be transformed and we do tend to misstep now and then (or more than now and then)- but the challenge is in the nature of invitation and loving persuasion rather than being accomplished by force.

I am grateful for being offered a much richer understanding of the yoke image – of seeing being yoked to Jesus as encompassing both Jesus’ assistance in carrying my load and Jesus gently steering me when my direction needs to be adjusted.