Monday, September 2, 2013

The Unnecessary Yoke


In Matthew 11:28-30, we hear Jesus say to his disciples, “Come to me , all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.  Take my yoke upon you 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, for those who do not know, according to Merriam Webster dictionary, is a ‘wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (oxen for example)are joined at the head or the neck for working together or an arched device formerly  laid on the neck of a defeated person.  It was a sign of servitude or slavery.  A person yoked, unlike an animal, was enslaved and defeated.  This passage come at the end of chapter 11 in which Jesus both chastised those who fail to put faith in Him and to thank His Father for those who do.  There are two yokes: one the people are currently wearing and one that he wishes to give us that alleviates the burden presented by the first yoke.

    So what are the yokes?  For the last month, I have been reading Fr Larry Richard’s book, “Surrender, the Life-Changing Power of Doing God’s Will.”  For the last several weeks I have also been studying humility.  In all this, it occurred to me in a much deeper way than before that the two yokes are self-centeredness and love.  Two yokes diametrically opposed to one another.  I would imagine that if one becomes accustomed to a weight, even a crushing weight, one adapts.  The yoke of this world, self-centeredness, is indeed a crushing weight.  It is a yoke that no Christian is called nor created to carry, it is an unnecessary yoke.

    It is easy to imagine that it suffices to claim the name of Christian to so many even though they still posses this yoke of iron.  This yoke tells us that happiness and peace come from self-satisfaction.  It is the primary message of this world and of our society.  It is highly destructive and wholly enslaving.  It is a perpetual drug that tells us if we just keep taking more hits that eventually we will find happiness in a lasting fashion.  But it never really works, does it?  One of the greater epiphanies I ever had happened to me when I was 24.  I realized that no amount of money would ever be enough.  I realized that no promotion or power would ever be enough.  I realized that no amount of worldly good, toys, and pleasure would ever be enough.  I realized I was living a life of perpetual want with no way to win.  It is the inevitable conclusion when we focus on the self, it leads to a profound emptiness that no worldly thing can fulfill.
    The yoke of Jesus removes the blinders from our eyes and gives us true clarity of vision.  Because it is bound in truth, it is easier and satisfying.  Selfless love is its own reward.  Love gives us the joy and contentment our hearts so desire.  It gives us peace in this life (despite the storms that rage around us) and becomes a  wellspring of God’s grace to eternal life.  In Matthew 6: 19- 20, Jesus reminds us to not accrue treasure for ourselves that by their nature can and will be destroyed, but to accrue treasure in heaven that can never be taken away nor wither away.  This yoke, because it is the yoke Christ Himself carries, is mostly carried by Him.

    I am finding, in my own life, that the more I allow the yoke of Christ to be the only yoke, the happier I am.  It comes down to a choice.  Which yoke?  The yoke that oppresses me and leads me to fields that will never satisfy?  Or the yoke carried by Christ that leads to the fulfillment of all our deepest and worthiest hopes and desires.  Christ does not make this decision for us.  We have to make it for ourselves.  Our choice determines our destiny in this life and the life to come.  I would imagine there are so many who do feel weary and tired.  I would imagine that we want to be free of worry and a slavish devotion to desires that will always remained unfulfilled.  Selfless love, in the person of Christ, is the way that breaks those fetters.

This concept is not foreign to the people of Jesus’ time.  Like the people of today, they wanted the basics, they wanted freedom from the Roman Empire, they wanted life as good as it gets.  Even among those who were satiated in the world’s goods, even these could not find rest for their souls.  They chased after anyone who said they could provide a better life.  When Jesus comes, he also says he can lead them to a better way, a better life.  But not in the way they were looking for.  They were looking for a physical satiation.  Anyone who does so is locked in self-involvement.  Self-involvement is the yoke of a defeated person; a yoke that can only crush under the weight of its undoable expectations.  What Jesus came to do was remove that yoke and give us a much lighter constraint to our actions.  His yoke was the yoke to selflessly love as God selflessly loves.  He came to utterly change the focus of each person. 

  The yoke of this world, because it is bound in selfish desire, can only lead to sin.  The yoke of this world leads the person to act as if all in this world is for their disposal.  Other persons becomes means to an end to self-gratification.  It leads to various addictions because the high afforded always goes away and needs to be re-engaged with. The yoke of this world keeps us in constant worry, seeking to hoard as much as we can for ourselves, while others suffer.  This yoke is necessary for all of the seven deadly sins. The yoke of the world can so blind us that we become like the rich man of  Luke 16: 19-31, who is so self-absorbed that he fails to even notice (let alone help) Lazarus, the beggar who laid at his door.  It causes to withhold our time, energy, and resources from God in fear that we won’t have enough.  It fills us so much that we can do all this and still demand that God give us more and become indignant and doubtful of God when more is not given.

It might sound like a weird thing to call selfless love a yoke.  Yokes do provide the person driving the team a way of maintaining direction.  The one who selflessly loves has to continually lay their own self-interest aside.  As was pointed out in the homily last week,  the humble person (without humility we cannot selflessly love) is set free from worry about oneself as is able to completely give themselves as a gift to others and to God.  It was also pointed out that without this love and humility we could never be exalted by God to the Kingdom of Heaven.  As God gives us the grace to love, to be humble, and to be freed from the shackles of selfishness, He rightly expects that we will utilize this grace and take His own yoke, that is, His own love, and make it our way of life.

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