Liam T. O'Doherty, O.S.A.
Church of Our Mother of Good Counsel
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Zec 9: 9-10
Ps 145: 1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14
Rom 8: 9, 11-13
Mt 11: 25-30
I try to listen intently whenever I listen to the Gospel being proclaimed. But whenever I hear the Carpenter of Nazareth telling a story about building a house on rock or making farm tools out of wood, my ears always perk up.
I say to myself:
“Liam, listen up! He’s talking about something he did professionally for many years. This is important!”
First of all, does everybody here know what a yoke is?
It’s that big collar-like thing that a farmer or wagon-driver puts around the shoulders of an ox or a horse so the animal can more easily pull a plow or a cart. These yokes are not “one-size-fits-all.” A well-fitting yoke distributes the burden evenly around the shoulders and ensures relative comfort hour after hour, days upon days.
An ill-fitting yoke can badly chafe an animal’s hide causing cruel pain and suffering. It can make the animal belligerent, rebellious and uncooperative.
I once heard a legend about Jesus during his years as a carpenter.
The legend says that Jesus had the reputation for making the best yokes in the Nazareth area. People came from miles around for a yoke, hand-carved and crafted by Jesus, son of Joseph.
When customers arrived with their team of oxen, Jesus always spent much time measuring the team, their height, the width, the space between them, and the size of their shoulders. Within a week, the owner brought back his oxen and Jesus would gently and carefully place the newly made yoke over their shoulders, watching for rough places, smoothing out the edges and fitting them perfectly to this particular team of oxen.
Once I heard a scripture scholar joke that if they had advertizing signs on shops in Jesus’ day, his carpenter shop might have had a sign that read: “Jesus, son of Joseph: Master Carpenter” with the tag-line: “Come to me! My yokes are easy!”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites you and me to come to him and take on his yoke. But don’t be misled by the word “easy.” The root word in Greek implies “tailor-made”; so they were “well-fitting” yokes. The yoke Jesus invites us to take, the yoke that brings rest to weary souls–it’s one that is made to fit our lives and hearts exactly. The yoke he invites us to wear fits us with wonderful precision, and does not rub us nor cause us to develop sore spirits or chafed hearts.
Jesus’ invitation in today’s Gospel may seem ironic to many. He says:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
And then he tells these burdened people that he’s going to give them a rest by giving them a yoke – which is a burden!!
As always, Jesus is inviting us to deeper intimacy with him. Not the relationship of the farmer and the animal in the yoke, but that of master to disciple. A relationship that is guided and empowered by “the Spirit of God [who] dwells in” us as Paul mentions in our second reading today.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus’ words to us today are these:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me....”
Said in another way, Jesus is inviting you and me:
“Become my disciple! Submit to MY yoke – the one I have crafted only for you. It will be work, but we will do it together. I share this burden with you. I will teach you the way to walk in love, to walk in meekness, to walk in humbleness of heart. [A]nd you will find rest for yourselves.”