Sunday, 9 July 2017

Week 14 Sunday (Year A)

 Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 144; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

The task set by the Father for the Son is entirely a work of love which does not mean that it is not also a demanding work, a work that, in human terms, costs not less than everything. The mission of the Son provides a background, then, for the strange invitation he extends to his disciples: if you are tired and burdened, come and take this yoke on your shoulders, a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. So what is this new weight which actually makes lighter, this yoke or harness which actually brings freedom?

If you do a Google Images search for 'yoke' you will find that the first set of pictures shows double yokes, the kind that bind two oxen together as they plough or pull a cart. Only on scrolling down do you begin to see the single yoke for one animal, or perhaps for a person carrying two buckets, that kind of thing.

So there are double yokes and there are single yokes. In the Bible the single yoke is an image of the Law. The Law was a yoke laid on the people which was, yes, restricting but which was also the guarantee of the covenant which the Lord had made with them. This yoke gave guidance and direction, keeping the people on the straight path, helping them to live well.

The yoke of the law (moral obligation and duty) is easy and light when it is carried out of love. If it is understood as a burden imposed from without, and its reasonableness is not understood, then it will be experienced as a heavy weight, a demanding master. But where its purpose is seen, and the life it protects is valued, and the relationship it seals is the centre of our lives, then to carry this yoke is not a burden. 'He ain't heavy, he's my brother' found its way into a popular liturgical song many years ago. Carrying one another's burdens not only fulfills the law of Christ, as Paul says, it is also easy when it is inspired and enabled by our love for one another. 'My food is to do the will of my Father in heaven', Jesus says elsewhere. Carrying burdens becomes easy and light; we even find rest in doing so when it is an experience of love, for in love human beings always take delight and find joy.

But perhaps we are to think also of the double yoke, the one that binds animals in pairs as they work together on a common task. If Jesus means a double yoke of this kind when he invites us to take his yoke on us, then when we look to the side to see who is in the harness with us, it is Jesus himself since it is his yoke. We are alongside him and partnering him in this work of being obedient to the Father's will. He is alongside us and partnering us and so, once again, it becomes easy and light, desirable and joyful.

Take my yoke on you and learn from me, he says. What is it we are to learn? We learn that the heart of all reality is God who is love. We learn that God has set his heart on a people and that he seeks them out. We learn in this yoke of Jesus that God has first loved us, taking on himself the yoke of our sins, so that anything we do in partnership with Him always has the character of response and acceptance, an act of gratitude for far greater gifts won through a far more demanding sacrifice than any we might be asked to make.

This double yoke in which we are harnessed with Christ so as to share in His work clearly evokes that moment in the passion when Simon of Cyrene stood alongside Jesus and helped him to carry his cross. He is with us always. If we take his yoke on us and learn from him then we are with him always, shaping our lives according to his way, and giving our hearts according to a love that is, in the first place, his.

The yoke is also about humility and today's first reading draws our attention to this aspect. Yoked animals work the earth, faces to the ground. Humility is from 'humus', the ground, or earth. To be humble does not mean regarding ourselves as so much dirt. It means rather being open and ready to learn again about the direction of our lives, ready to have our hearts husbanded by God one more time (ploughed, prepared for bearing fruit).

The learned and the clever tend to become attached to the ideas they form and the theories they prefer. It can be more difficult for them to change direction or to change their minds, and ideas can become an imprisoning yoke for them.  Children are simpler and humbler, open to new things, and not yet attached or fixed in their ways. So to be childlike, as Jesus says often in the gospels, is to be open to life in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus invites us to become like children and to take up his yoke, to submit to his teaching and his way of living, with simplicity and expectancy. In doing so he is inviting us to share an adventure, to explore the path of his love and obedience to the Father, to enter for example into the mystery of understanding what Paul says in today's second reading, to journey with Jesus towards a destination whose nature is not yet fully clear. All we know is that we will be with Him there as He is with us all along the path.

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