On Sunday July 5th, the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we heard from Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 11. You are familiar with a portion of this passage; “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)
If we take a simple view of Jesus’ words, we can picture oxen with a wooden yolk around their shoulders pulling a plow, and we can equate that yolk with the burdens of life. We might picture Jesus making those life burdens lighter for us.
That’s a nice image. But the reality of this saying goes much deeper than that!
“Take my yolk upon you and LEARN from me….”. Why does Jesus say that? “Learn from me…”
Jesus was a Rabbi. Rabbis teach. Each Rabbi had his own unique interpretation of Torah. The Torah is the law that the people lived by, and had been given to them by God through Moses. Each Rabbi’s unique interpretation of the law was his ‘yolk’. So when a young man chose a specific Rabi to follow and learn from, he ‘took the yolk of Torah’ from that Rabbi. The Rabbi became his ‘Master’, and that disciple (Talmudine) accepted that Rabbi’s interpretation, and embraced it.
So what is Jesus saying to his disciples, and to us? “Take my yolk…” Take Jesus’ interpretation of the law, and learn from him. But what was Jesus’ interpretation of the law?
He said things like, “ You’ve heard it said…..but I say to you….”, a common teaching phrase used by Rabbis in Jesus’ time.
Jesus quoted the law; “You’ve heard that it was said ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement…”
Jesus said, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
Jesus said, “You’ve heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ (a common ancient practice of vengeance; ‘tit for tat’ or paying back injury for injury). But I say to you offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. And if you are pressed into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.”
Jesus’ YOLK, his interpretation of the law, is very clear. Go beyond the law. Do more than what is expected of you. Go the extra mile. Do more than anyone would expect you to do. Don’t retaliate or take vengeance. Step beyond your rights….. in LOVE. Jesus not only taught this, but he lived it and died it!
The Yolk of Torah that Jesus teaches will challenge us to our core if we attempt to live it out.
How can we make this teaching, this Yolk taught by Jesus, practical in our daily life?
If someone says something unkind to me, do I retaliate by arguing, or by asserting my right to defend myself? OR…do I refrain from answering with something unkind, and choose to remain silent? Hmmmm….
When there is ammunition of any kind directed at us, we always have 2 choices. We can pick up that ammunition and throw it back, perpetuating the fight, or we can choose not to retaliate at all. If someone throws darts at us and we never pick them up and throw them back, they will eventually run out of ammunition.
Let’s think and pray about how to incorporate Jesus’ teaching about his Yolk into our daily lives.
Let’s pray for the courage and strength to step beyond our rights in Love….
In Christ’s Peace…