The Yoke of Christ
Matthew 11:25-30 - Jesus reveals, in His Person, how we are to carry on and to what end we go.
Today’s gospel passage from the end of the eleventh chapter of Matthew offers us a rather striking image to think about. Last week, we reflected on the state of our hearts and the need to let go of everything except God. Now, it seems that Jesus is just asking us to swap one burden for another as He offers His yoke to us today. Let us listen to Our Lord’s words and see what His offer entails for us.
“Take my yoke upon you” (Mt 11:29).
At first glance, this does not sound like the gentle and comforting Jesus that many of us imagine. A yoke is for beasts in the field, it is used in difficult and exhausting work. Why would we want to take up this burden in place of the ones that we already have? Most of us may think that we are capable enough and have things mostly under control without needing much help. Our own power is sufficient to get along just fine. Sure, we have our burdens, but that is life, right? Jesus says, “I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28), but it does not seem to us that His way will be any more restful than ours, so it would be easier to just stick to what we know. The question underneath Our Lord’s words that we shall try to answer is this: How and to what end do we carry our burden?
The Wise and Learned
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened” (Mt 11:28). Whether we are attentive to them or not, each one of us has burdens in our lives. This is part of being a human person with the effects of original sin. Some of the burdens we bear are heavier than others, and some are more noticeable. Even still, we all labor through each day. There are two ways of laboring that Our Lord hints at in the gospel. The first is that of the “wise and learned”, and the second is the way of the “little ones” (Mt 11:25). I dare say, a great many of us tend to follow the way of the wise and learned. We, with our burdens, rely on our own prowess and strength to make it through day after day. Christ’s invitation, “Come to me...and you will find rest for yourselves” (Mt 11:28,29), is unheeded.
We let our feats and intelligence orient us toward our own glorification and esteem, and our desire in life becomes about getting ahead, getting the most out of life, or whatever other ulterior motive we may have. The present is seen as a waste and the labor is merely toilsome, an obstacle to what really matters, which is out there further down. This mentality strips us of any freedom or joy to be found in life.
“You [God] have hidden these things from the wise and learned” (Mt 11:25).
Each moment will be begrudgingly received, and bitter coldness will consume our hearts, shaking them restlessly until the icy grip of death takes hold and nothing remains. Thankfully, there is another way.
The Little Ones
The second way is to be like the little ones that Jesus mentions. To be like one of these little ones is to be simple and sincere, to live presently and dependently on God the Father. The childlike person heeds the call of Christ because they are docile to authority and trust in the words spoken to them. There is no ulterior motive in them. They are concerned with being present to what is before them. They are so present, in fact, that they are able to let go of their burdens to take on the yoke of Jesus. While the wise and learned of us would think to take on the new yoke and continue to carry our own burdens, these little ones with their simple, “meek and humble” (Mt 11:29) hearts let go of that which burdens them so as to engross themselves in what is before them. St. John of the Cross articulates the difference of the two ways beautifully in his writings, saying,
“When thy mind dwells upon anything, thou art ceasing to cast thyself upon the All.”
In casting themselves upon the yoke of Jesus, these little ones receive All, which is God Himself revealed through His Son.
The Way with Christ
Jesus reveals, in His Person, how we are to carry on and to what end we go. Jesus invites us to join Him in taking up His yoke so that we may be close to Him. God is personal, and therefore he reveals Himself personally, “such has been your gracious will” (Mt 11:26). We know what it is like to have a friend share something intimate about themselves. These sorts of things are often done in person, so that each person can be present to the other in that moment and can share in it together. This cannot happen truthfully with just a quick message; it is not the same.
So, God in His infinite love, desires to have us “learn from me” (Mt 11:29) by drawing right up next to Him, person to Person, under His yoke. There, He shows us His heart, to which “all things have been handed over to me by my Father” (Mt 11:27). Jesus, the Son, has cast Himself totally upon the Father to receive everything from Him in total humility and simplicity of heart. He asks us to do the same in letting go of all else save Him present with us at every moment of our lives beside us under the yoke. And to what end? Not to the bitter iciness of death and darkness. No, He takes us to the Cross with Him so that our labor may not be in vain, but that from this labor the tree upon which the Son of God offered up His life will bear its fruit of life everlasting for us in the glorious light of heaven before God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for all eternity. Then, “you will find rest”.