The Yoke of Faith

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A);  Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalms 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-1; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

Christ the Consolator by Bloch

“My Yoke is Easy; My Burden Light”

I once knew a woman who called herself “a recovering Catholic”.  It seems that as a child, she was taught a religion that was all about guilt.  Impossible demands were placed on her requiring strenuous efforts that were doomed to frustration.  Turn the other cheek.  Don’t even THINK about romantic flings.  Love your enemies.

Attempting this by sheer willpower was all too much for her, leading to an abiding sense of guilt.  No wonder she rejected such a religion.

But clearly, what she rejected was not the religion of Jesus Christ.  It rather resembles the approach of the Pharisees, who laid heavy burdens on people’s backs, but did not lift a finger to help.

In Matthew 11:25-30, Jesus appeals to those who experience life as one unending chore.  He offers rest and refreshment.  His yoke is easy, he says.   His burden is light.

Note though, that following Jesus does mean that you are foot-loose and fancy-free.  To be a disciple means to come under the discipline of a master.  It means voluntarily putting a yoke on ones shoulders, and walking in a direction set by the master.  It just happens to be the direction that the master knows will lead to pasture, refreshment, and happiness.  But when oxen are told to move, they can’t necessarily see the pasture at the end of the trail.  All they see is a long, dusty road leading to nowhere.

There are some masters that are harsh and overbearing.  When the oxen slow down due to fatigue or stubbornness, out comes the bullwhip.  The journey turns into a guilt trip.  The Pharisees were such masters.  But Jesus is not.  He is gentle.  Gentleness does not mean whimpiness.  He is strong and decisive, insistent on the direction to go and the pace to keep.  Yet his strength is quiet, loving strength that builds up rather than tears down.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus uses the image of the yoke?  At least two oxen are hitched together by a yoke side by side.   Oxen are called “beasts of burden.”  So why he does he call his yoke easy, his burden light?

Because he humbly yokes himself to us.  Simon of Cyrene helped carry his cross; he helps carry ours.  And he bears most of the weight, if we let him.  That’s why his yoke is easy.  And he gives us His Spirit within (Romans 8:9-10) to give us the inner strength to bear our share of the burden, which is, of course, the far lesser share to begin with.

Easy yoke, light burden.  You may reply that it sure doesn’t feel that way most of the time.  This could be for one of two reasons.  What we are carrying may simply not be the Lord’s yoke.  Sometimes we deliberately disobey the Lord (that’s called sin) and allow a tyrannical master to dominate our lives.  No problem.  That’s what the sacrament of baptism is all about.  Renouncing an oppressive Pharaoh in favor of a liberating Lord.  If we’ve betrayed our baptism and gone back to the fleshpots of Egypt, we have the sacrament of penance to bring us back across the Red Sea to the Promised Land of Freedom.

The other reason the yoke may seem heavy is because we are not allowing the Lord to carry the weight.  Or because we are not keeping his pace.  We could be dragging our heels or racing ahead of him.  Either way, we are chafing and straining.  Perhaps we need just to quiet down for a few moments in the green pasture of prayer and adoration to attune our ears once again to the voice of the Master.  The solution is easy: Let go and let God.


Acknowledgement

This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor as a reflection on the Mass readings 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A). It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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