"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Yoked Arm In Arm

"The Raising of the Cross" by Peter Paul Rubens

irst point is the image of the yoke or zugós (ζυγός) in Greek and it stands for the Jewish religious laws aka Halakha. Let us not be quick to jump into the conclusion that the law is always something that is heavy and tiresome. In fact, Jewish people are traditionally obsessed not only with following the law but also studying and interpreting it. This is their best kept secret, as it were, in order to keep their balance. Without laws, it would be tantamount to going into the streets without traffic lights. Obedience to the Law was always a joy, since the Law is of divine origin. God revealed his nature and divine will for human beings through the laws. For every Jew it is a joyful privilege to abide by it. When Jesus came, he did not say he will throw away the yoke entirely. No. There is still the yoke of observing laws. He came to fulfill it by putting meaning and spiritual substance to it. The letter of the law kills but the spirit of the law gives life. What is the meaning of this? It would help us understand this saying if we know how yokes are made. A yoke works best and properly when it fits the oxen comfortably. If a farmer uses an ill-fitting yoke, this can cause the oxen to be sore and reluctant to work and it can be disastrous to their livelihood. When Jesus said, my yoke is easy and my burden is light, he knows his own yoke like an ox does. The yoke must not only be the right size but it must also be the right material. Choosing the type of wood is important to create a yoke that is strong enough to withstand the draft forces applied to it, but light enough that it does not tire out the oxen unnecessarily.

Second point: Oxen are usually yoked two by two. The training of steers start when they are about three years of age or the trainable age. A calm temperament is one of the most important requirements for an ox. They must have a willingness to respond to commands and be content to do the same sort of work day after day so long as they are well-fed and cared for.

Typically the way to train the young steers is to be put side by side with the older animals. The young learns from the older ox that has been seasoned by experience. Each ox is always on the same side of the yoke. The ox trained to stay on the right side of the yoke must always stay on that side. It is like wearing shoes fitted to one's right or left foot. There are also universal commands that oxen follow. For example when you say “Back” for back up; “Gee” for turn to the right; “Giddyup” for go; “Haw” for turn to the left; and “Whoa” for stop. Indeed it is much easier for both farmer and oxen to do their jobs when they are in sync with each other. This is the meaning behind the words of Jesus "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28-32). When we are partnered with Jesus, yoked with God by our side, who would get tired?

Third point: To whom does Jesus address this message? It is to everyone but most especially to the poor—the least, the last and the lost. They are the ones who labour and are overburdened not by choice. It is not addressed to those who reject the teachings of Jesus. We recall the gospel in the previous days where he already reproached the unrepentant towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. This time Jesus addresses those who are humble and open-minded. And as always Jesus humbly demonstrates what he preaches by applying it to himself first. When he said my ways are humble and my heart is meek, he makes himself poor and not like the learned people in his time. He does not simply stay as the ox-driver, he becomes the ox himself and gets himself locked up with us in carrying all the burden arm in arm. God walks his talk starting from the moment God decides to become human like us. God is born into an impoverished and homeless family among the cattle, and first greeted by simple shepherds. He enters Jerusalem on a donkey. This is the heart of the teaching of Jesus on lightening up the burdens by putting aside all worldly honour and standards and embrace what is only necessary and more rewarding. He made himself credible and trustworthy to be followed by being first a follower of the humble teachings of his parents, Mary and Joseph. God allowed himself to be trained throughout the 30 years of his life by humble and meek teachers like his own parents. But there are those who reject him still, and thereby become overburdened by their close-mindedness. There is no more space for new learnings on the part of the learned and, by choice, they remain heavy-laden. If you desire to find rest in Jesus, then you must be willing to empty yourself and choose to be liberated from either yokes that are not fitted well or yokes that are meant to be given away. We can only stick to one yoke at a time so choose well.

Let me end with an excerpt from the homily of Pope Francis during the First World Day of the Poor in November 2017. He said, “What counts for me in life? Where am I making my investments?” In fleeting riches, with which the world is never satisfied, or in the wealth bestowed by God, who gives eternal life? This is the choice before us: to live in order to gain things on earth, or to give things away in order to gain heaven. Where heaven is concerned, what matters is not what we have, but what we give, for “those who store up treasures for themselves, do not grow rich in the sight of God” (Lk 12:21). Fr JM Manzano SJ


  1. Once again, very nice sharing. Wala pa ring kupas yung pagiging in-depth and extensive... I'm happy to read your reflections once again. Nadadagan yung pagkaintindi ko sa verse na ito. Maraming salamat Fr. JM! GBU!

    1. Thank you also for your sharing and compliments! GBU 😇


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