What Does it Mean to Say Jesus’ Yoke is Easy and His Burden Light?

I have been reflecting during my daily prayer over the last several weeks on Brendan Byrne’s commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, titled Lifting the Burden.

I sat the other morning with a passage that has always given me great comfort: “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.”

Byrne asks the question: how can we reconcile Jesus’ claim that his yoke is easy and his burden light with the Sermon on the Mount?  If we take seriously the teaching of that Sermon, the demands Jesus places on that are more burdensome than what was taught by the scribes and Pharisees.   Think of how many times he says, “you have heard x, but I say to you 2x.”  You’ve heard don’t kill; I say don’t be angry.  You’ve heard don’t commit adultery; I say do not look at a woman with lust.  And so forth.

Byrne suggests that the apparent inconsistency is not one that can be reconciled in theory, but “only in the personal life of believers” and the personal presence that radiates from “come to meI will give you rest.”  He writes

The quality of “ease” and the “lightness” cannot consist in a lesser level of virtue or ethical demand. It must have something to do with the sense that all fulfillment in practice is preceded and facilitated by an intense relationship with Jesus and a sense of being grasped by his love. His claim to be “gentle and humble of heart” is ultimately a claim to personal attractiveness and an invitation to enter into an exchange of love. Such love, which is ultimately an extension of the love of the Father, is what can make even the most difficult requirements “easy” and “light.”

Ignatian Spirituality places heavy emphasis on our personal encounter with Christ.  The effect of that encounter not only deepens our conversion to Christ, but strengthens us to live in accordance with his teachings.


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