Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9,11-13; Psalm 145; Matthew 11:25-30
In our Gospel reading from St. Matthew, Our Lord says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.” A yoke is not something we see much anymore, but through the ages they have been common for both animals and people. A yoke placed over the shoulders enables one to carry heavier loads than with the hands and arms alone. An easy yoke is one that is well fitted to the person and actually makes the job less difficult. An ill fitting yoke can cause injury and pain. Our Lord says that his yoke is easy and his burden light, but he doesn’t say it is not a yoke and a burden. The Orthodox Study Bible says that Jesus’ yoke is submission to the kingdom of God, and it is easy because through this yoke the power of God works in us. This yoke is not accepted without consequence on our lives. When we agree, in our Baptism and Chrismation, to take up the work of the Church, the work of Christ, we agree to accept the yoke and the burden. St. Paul writes of this in his letter to the Church at Rome, “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him…So then,…we are debtors, not to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the evil deeds of the body, you will live.” When St. Paul uses the word “flesh”, he is referring to our unredeemed state, not to our bodies. When we put on the yoke and burden of Christ we vow to live by the Spirit, not by the unredeemed flesh.
What this means, in our day to day life, is that every decision, choice, action, reaction, word and thought should be made according to the Spirit of Christ who lives in us. Notice I said “should”, we will fail at this, and when we do, if we are paying attention, we will begin to feel the yoke chafing a bit, because we are no longer fitted for it, and we need to repent and start again. Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden light only when we keep ourselves in condition for them, when we lose our way and wander from the path, they can become intolerable.
Our Lord says that he is “gentle and humble of heart”, the word gentle is literally translated as meek, as in “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”. This is what the Orthodox Study Bible says about meekness, “The meek are God-controlled and have mastery over their passions, especially anger. Meekness is not passive weakness, but strength directed and under control.” I don’t know about you, but I want to be that person! And that is what Christ is telling us, “Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart”. It is when we are meek that the yoke and burden are easy and light. How do we become meek? As long as we live according to the flesh, we cannot, and even if we live according to the flesh only once in a while it is still very difficult. Meekness comes from living in the Spirit, trusting God in all things, and letting go of the things that still tie us to our unredeemed passions: Pride, ego, expectations, ambition, greed, control, hope or happiness founded on anything other than God, acceptance of the world’s standards or ideals, and most of all, wanting our own way. This is hard to do in a world that does see meekness as weakness, and trusting God as folly. But remember, Jesus said, “Father, what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest children”. If the world, or our own families, believe that we are fools for following Christ, we are at least in good company.
It seems paradoxical that Jesus says to those who are weary and find life burdensome, “Come to me, take my yoke, take my burden”. How will this refresh us? We are refreshed by Jesus’ yoke because it is the right yoke, the right burden, the one we were created to carry. The ones we usually carry are ones we have made ourselves, often in defiance of God, or ignorance of God. We often hear of people carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, and I am sure we have all felt like that at times. But that is not our burden, that is God’s responsibility. We often feel burdened by the sin, violence, war and suffering that goes on in the world, and I am not saying we should not pray for all who are in pain or want, but that burden is also not ours, it is the burden Christ took to the Cross. It is restful and refreshing to give these burdens into the proper hands and take up our own, made for us, to serve not only our salvation, but also the building up of the Kingdom of God.
Joyfully shouldering the yoke of Jesus, living in the Spirit, learning meekness and humility from Christ, is the best way to witness to the world our faith, our love and our hope in Christ.
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