Take my yoke upon you

An image, a metaphor, is a powerful tool to understand life and theology. For many years I had the wrong image in mind of what Jesus meant by “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” As I read and visualized this passage I could feel Jesus’ compassion in his words, but could not understand why he wanted me to take His yoke, and why it was going to be easy. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
— Mathew 11: 28-30

Before this passage Jesus is talking to the crowds and He reveals his divinity. He says that no one knows the Son except the Father and that no one knows the Father except the Son. They are one and they are God. He tells us that understanding of this divine relationship and essence will be reveal to those He chooses to reveal it. He wants to reveal the Father to us, and thus immediately after that he calls us. “Come to me.”

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The issue with the image is that for many years I imagined a single yoke, a heavy piece of wood that Jesus was taking from Him and giving to me. It felt heavy. I was grateful to serve and be useful with the yoke, but it did not feel easy. Then a few weeks ago a priest was giving a sermon on this passage and he reminded us about what a yoke is. “A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull.” It is always shared by two animals to be of service. Jesus was not giving me his yoke! He was sharing his yoke so that together, Jesus and I, we could carry my heavy burdens. Ah! I can now see how the burdens I was carrying by myself would feel so much lighter with Jesus next to me helping me with the yoke. 

What burdens are these? The pain of our sins, of a broken heart, or of the loss of a love one. The weariness of not knowing how to make a car payment or buy the kids clothes for school. The list is endless and we sometimes try to carry all of that by ourselves. Jesus was also talking about the burden of the Law, which dictated many rules of outward observance and Jesus sought to perfect it by focusing on the spirit, by focusing on love. “Come” Jesus says, “I will give you rest.” He was also teaching us and role modeling for us. “Learn from me; for I am gentle and humble.” 

As we walk with Jesus we learn in humility to offer our burdens in love, to release, to hope in faith. Our lighter load enables us to then learn from Him and gently help others carry their burdens. We then learn to offer our yoke to those that are weary and give them rest. We will then better know the Father, through the Son. 

All you who go about tormented, afflicted and burdened with the burden of your cares and desires, go forth from them, come to me, and I will refresh you and you shall find for your souls the rest which your desires take from you
— St John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, book 1, chap. 7, 4