“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.” In this gospel reading Jesus invites us to take his yoke upon ourselves and learn from him, walking the path that he establishes in life. The image of a yoke is one that is difficult for us to accept. Often we want the freedom to choose our own path in life and to walk wherever we choose to walk. We have a deeply ingrained sense of self-sufficiency and we want to do it ourselves, we want to live life for ourselves and to live life our own way. The very essence of freedom seems to us to be able to throw off the yokes in our life and to set out on our own, making our own decisions and choosing our own way. Must I take a yoke upon myself and limit my freedom in some way? Am I truly free in this way?
Most of us have grown up in the “me” generation. We have a tendency to look up to and to laud those who have shown a fiercely independent nature and will. We have a tendency to see fierce independence, autonomy and self-reliance as being a virtue. We reward independent behavior and see those who are “mavericks” as trend setters, wisdom figures and leaders among us, true examples of freedom. In sports, entertainment, music, academia, business and other areas we have idolized the “free spirits” and seek to follow their example. “Free to be me” has been seen as a right and a necessity of a free society. In this context it is difficult for us to respond positively to our Lord’s call to take a yoke upon ourselves.
In creation God declared that “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Gen 2,18) In order to fulfill our destiny and to reach our perfection we need others in our life. We learn from one another and we benefit from the help of others in our life. As God is a community of persons we are also called to live in a community and to be part of that community. Our true good is not realized in autonomous behavior, looking out only for ourselves and satisfying our own desires. We are created to work together, to walk with others in our life and to cooperate with one another in creating a just and peaceful order in life. A yoke is something that teaches us to work together and to live our lives in solidarity with one another. A yoke is a tool that teaches us to limit our freedom for a greater good than our own selfish concerns.
The Catechism reminds us that, “The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, “the subject of this freedom,” is “an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods.” Moreover, the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions that are needed for a just exercise of freedom are too often disregarded or violated. Such situations of blindness and injustice injure the moral life and involve the strong as well as the weak in the temptation to sin against charity. By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth.” (CCC 1740) By refusing to yoke ourselves to the good and to God’s law we fall into sin and find ourselves wearing the “yoke of slavery” and being oppressed by our disordered desires. Our claim to freedom causes us to lose our freedom because our freedom is fallible and in alienating ourselves from God we alienate ourselves from life.
The bible illustrates many situations of man falling into the “yoke of slavery” and bearing the heavy burden of alienation and oppression. When we insist upon living an independent existence we bear the burden of our responsibility alone and it can become a very heavy burden. God did not intend for us to have to bear our burdens alone but to walk together with others who can make our burdens lighter. A yoke ties us to others who can help to bear the burdens of life with us, especially when we are weak, being yoked to someone stronger can be a great comfort and help to us.
Jesus invites us to yoke ourselves to him in discipleship and to walk alongside of him in our lives. Jesus calls us to “learn from him” the way of life that will give us greater freedom and allow us to rest in his love. The gentle yoke of Jesus helps us to overcome our weaknesses by drawing upon his strength. We will find it easy to walk among life’s challenges when we walk with Jesus beside us in a yoke for he is meek and humble of heart and will always lead us to a more abundant life.
It truly gives me comfort and assurance to wear the yoke of Jesus as his disciple and to walk with him in life. It requires discipline and surrender but I know that there is nothing that he and I together cannot bear. Not my will but yours Lord, for you know the way to eternal life.