|Two oxen sharing a yoke|
In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus says, “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).
At first brush, His promise seems hollow: the Christian life can be hard, and the burdens seem heavy. After all, Jesus also says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). The Cross doesn’t sound like an easy yoke or a light burden. And certainly, for those striving to live a life of holiness, it doesn’t feel like a light burden, either. Oftentimes, we find ourselves tempted to sin simply because it’s easier than doing what we know is right.
So how can Christ claim that His yoke is easy and His burden light?
First, because it is light, compared to sin. King David described himself as drowning in his sin, crushed by its weights: “For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me” (Psalm 38:4). There’s the weight of lies, from covering up the things we knew we shouldn’t have done. The weight of guilt, of regretting what we’ve done, or regretting the harm that our sins have caused those we love. And these weights seem to constantly grow: one sin leads to another and another until we find ourselves drowning. Almost anyone who has lived a sinful life knows this feeling, and certainly, David was no stranger to the deception and guilt brought about by sin. Christ offers us a way out, a way of redemption, of leaving those burdens aside.
But there’s another reason that Christ’s yoke is easy. A yoke, as you may know, is a wooden crosspiece fastened on the neck of two oxen (or other animals) so that they can plow. The ox isn’t alone under the weight of the crosspiece: there’s another ox there to help him. Who helps us carry our Cross, to Whom are we tethered under the yoke of the Cross? Jesus Himself.
This is the beautiful irony of the Passion of Christ. As Jesus is carrying the Cross towards Calvary, Simon of Cyrene is pulled out the crowd to help Him carry it (Matthew 27:32). But in a deeper way, we shouldn’t think of this simply as Simon helping Christ carry the Cross. After all, it’s Simon (and each of us) who is due the Cross, not Jesus. Rather, He is helping us carry the Cross.
And that’s why it’s not heavy: because under the most extreme Crosses of our life, during the most agonizing trials, we’re still never alone. Christ walks that road with us. Therefore, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).