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Lifting the burden of others

GOD’S WORD TODAY - Manuel V. Francisco, S.J. () - July 6, 2008 - 12:00am

Being yoked beside Jesus:

The yoke is a wooden harness on the back of an ox, a frame attached to a plough, a wagon or some other load.  That Jesus’ yoke is easy means that the harness he offers is light, shaped to fit the back of the ox, and smoothened of slivers that can prick the ox’s skin.

While the yoke itself is a weight on one’s back, its primary purpose is to ease the burden of the work animal trained to carry a load. The yoke, while restricting, is a tool meant to lighten the domesticated animal’s work of hauling a load.

We all have loads to carry, such as our responsibility to care and provide for our families, and the demands of our work and ministries. Sometimes, people become burdens for us to carry — difficult people we deal with, a loved one with a terminal illness, a friend with an addiction. Moreover, the load can be psychological — depression, a sense of hopelessness, resentment of which we cannot let go. Further still, the load can be a social reality — poverty, unemployment and hunger, war and ethnic strife, oppression and injustice.

What is worth noting is that Jesus does not promise to lift up and cast away our loads. Faith in the Father and discipleship to him do not exempt us from the burdens of life. Rather, Jesus promises to be with us and be our source of strength as we carry our burdens. This is beautifully conveyed in the image of the double yoke that was commonly used by Jewish peasants. 

Yokes were made for one or two oxen; they were thus called single or double yokes. If Jesus were referring to a single yoke, then his statement, “My yoke is easy and my burden light” implies that he was likening himself to a farmer and each of us to an ox whose load he assures of lightening.  But there is another possible meaning and a more poignant image: if Jesus were referring to a double yoke, Jesus’ statement would signify an assurance of laboring with us, being by our side, and helping us carry our load. And this Jesus can do because, as our Gospel passage earlier states, he and the Father are one. By allowing ourselves to be yoked to Jesus’ side, we become united to the Father as Jesus is. By allowing ourselves to be harnessed, together with Jesus, we allow him to channel the Father’s strength and hope and joy to us.

Accepting Jesus’ Yoke:

However, responding to Jesus’ invitation to be yoked by his side is not a wholly passive act.  It requires active discipleship: becoming perfect as the Father is perfect, loving one’s enemies, walking an extra mile, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, not laboring for the riches of this world. If all of these and more constitute the yoke of Jesus, then such a yoke seems heavy and burdensome. Indeed, have we not at times complained to God that witnessing to our Christian faith is too difficult, abiding by Christian ethical precepts too idealistic, and following Jesus’ footsteps too unrealistic? “Jesus,” we whine, “your yoke – all your teachings and demands – just makes our load all the more unbearable.”

But then again, think of the happiest people you know. Aren’t many of them the most committed Christians? They radiate joy and peace despite the heavy loads they carry. Recall an experience of forgiving someone who has betrayed you. Recall what it was like to decide to honor your vows and commitments amidst temptation and tribulation. Recall giving till it hurt to someone who was desperate. Were not your hearts burning?  Were not your loads lightened by being yoked to Jesus, by abiding by his stringent demands and following his way of life?

Sharing the Burdens of Others:

If Jesus shares our burdens by inviting us to be yoked beside him, to follow in his footsteps entails lifting the burdens of others, the poor especially, whose loads are crushing and dehumanizing. We are called to ease the burdens of the poor through our individual efforts, but more and more importantly, through our collective action. This leads us to the idea of social grace.

Just as sin abounds as a social reality — the inequitable distribution of power and wealth in our country, corruption in the government, the apathy of the rich, the resignation of the poor – so can grace abound as a social reality.  Because poverty and injustice are systemic, the response to reverse these social ills also needs to be systemic. As laws can protect the interests of the rich and powerful, so can laws be formulated to protect the weakest members of society. As economic globalization can aggravate poverty, so can globalized humanitarian efforts address all forms of deprivation and degradation.  

As Christ invites us to be yoked beside him so that he can ease our burdens, to be a disciple of Jesus means being yoked together with the poor and the suffering, so that we might help them carry their loads. Discipleship does not exempt us from suffering and pain, instead compels us to embrace the suffering and pain of others. 

All male college students and young professionals are invited to learn more about the Jesuit vocation at a seminar to be held at the Ateneo de Manila University campus on July 13, Sunday. For more information, call 4266101. For feedback on this column, e-mail tinigloyola@yahoo.com

ACCEPTING JESUS IF JESUS JESUS YOKE
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