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Yoked in Love
A Reflection on the Gospel of Matthew 11:25-30
Internet Image from K
"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." (Matthew 11:28–30 NABRE)
Jesus, in the Gospel today uses a strange metaphor to describe our relationship with Him. In Scripture, a yoke often describes enslavement and that which binds the many into common service to achieve the will of a master. I think that Jesus intends both, but not in the way we might suspect.
Crazy as it may seem, when I think of being yoked, a tandem bike comes to mind. The two are bound together in one purpose. Once, as a child, when my family was visiting friends, I saw that they had a bicycle built for two. I immediately asked if my brother and I could ride it. They said, “yes!” I jumped in the seat to the front and my brother took the seat behind me and we started out. I was amazed at how fast we could go with the power of two. Inevitably, my brother and I disagreed over which direction we should go. I wanted to go up a hill and he did not. I had the steering handle in my hands so, I won the argument! Not long afterward, I noticed that we did not have the strength to make it up the hill. I turned my head to see what was going on. There was my brother, feet not moving at all, with a smile on his face, just coasting. He was not going to pedal until I listened to him. We were not going to get very far. We were no longer a team! Though we were yoked to the bicycle, if we were to get anywhere, we had to set aside our will and pride.
A yoke was, and still is, a very valuable piece of farming equipment. The yoke is usually a heavy beam laid across the shoulders and fastened around the neck of a team of animals and tied by rope or straps. Working at the direction of the driver, the yoke is designed to distribute the weight of the load evenly between the animals to make the work easier. The yoke also helps keep the animals in line, preventing them from wandering off or fighting with each other. The yoke binds the two and the driver into service together. If one stubbornly resists the other, then no work gets done, and the driver must replace an animal or the team. If the animals work together at the direction of the driver, then amazing things can happen.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel today that the yoke He is offering us is easy and the load, our burden, is light. The yoke binds us both to Him as the driver and to our brother and sister in faith in harness. That yoke which binds us together, within the Sacred Heart of Jesus is love, for God is love. St John tells us,
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love … and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. (1 John 4:8 NABRE)
Take up the yoke of love! Outside of this yoke, there is no salvation. It is not the yoke of fear! We are not enslaved in the yoke, as a slave is bound by fear to a master. The Lord tells us that His yoke is easy. Fear belongs to slaves, love to the beloved; fear is in compulsion, love resides in freedom. Jesus does not “yoke us”, He offers the yoke as a gift. He asks us to “take” his yoke upon us. It is not forced but offered. Once yoked, we must learn from our Master if we are to be successful in our labor. He tells us,
learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. (Matthew 11:29b NABRE)
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Learn! Working within the yoke of love, we must be meek. Meekness is not weakness. A horse is much bigger and stronger than its rider but, the horse in meekness yields to the guidance of the rider. Meekness is to yield to the Master. God is not my co-pilot! He is driving! When we work with others in the vineyard of the kingdom, we must always remember that yoked in love, we must all yield to God’s direction together. We discern that direction together through a prayerful listening, not a willful power grab over the other. In the Lord's yoke, we have direction, guidance, and wisdom. To be yoked with Christ means that we must follow the narrow way to heaven. He is the Way! It is characteristic of a good master to foresee everything that concerns the benefit of the servant. Moreover, it is characteristic of good servants to work together faithfully and not debate the master’s actions.
To work within the yoke of love, we serve both the Master and our fellow laborers in humility. Yield the front seat of the tandem bike to the Master and just pedal. To be humble is not to give in when it regards the truth. There is only one way, one path, and that is Christ. Humility means we must listen to the other and cover each other’s weakness as we pedal together to achieve the master’s design. How can two servants yoked in love fight with each other and get anywhere? To be yoked in love is to will the good of the other first for we are bound one to another in love. Learn humility from the Lord. His first act is always to empty himself and serve the other. So should we!
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (John 13:14–15 NABRE)
To take up the yoke of Christ is not enslavement but true freedom. Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness and its perfection when directed toward God. Freedom attains its perfection in being yoked in Christ. True freedom exists only in the service of what is good and just. The weight of earthly masters gradually destroys the strength of their servants, but the weight of Christ helps the one who bears it, because we do not bear grace; grace bears us. In meekness listen and follow the Word. In humility, empty yourself of pride and the arrogance of insisting on your own way. It is not your way but His. Just pedal and serve your brothers and sisters on their way to heaven. Powered by the Sacred Heart of Jesus, there is no path too difficult or hill too high. Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden light. Take on the yoke of Love.
K. “Vintage Photos: A Bicycle Built for Two.” Vintage Photos: A Bicycle Built for Two, 3 May 2012, prettygreasy.blogspot.com/2012/05/vintage-photos-bicycle-built-for-two.html.