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 (Mt 11:28).
For the majority of my life, this passage left me feeling quite conflicted. I loved the first part of this passage, namely, the idea of being able to bring my burdens, my anxieties, my fears to the Lord and in return, he would give me rest. Images of restful waters and green pastures would start to come to mind, but then suddenly I would be torn from this restful walk with the Lord as someone drops a heavy and oppressive yoke upon my shoulders. How is this yoke upon my shoulders supposed to make me feel restful?
However, this passage became more meaningful when someone explained to me how a yoke actually works. A yoke is placed on the shoulders of two oxen — a stronger, older ox paired with a younger, less experienced ox — and together they work to carry the load. Gradually, the younger ox learns that if it walks in stride and pulls in the same direction as the older ox, the burden is lighter and easier. Thus, Christ is inviting us to bring our burdens to him, so that instead of struggling alone, we are led forward by him.
Given this understanding of a yoke, this passage offers us guidance for when we encounter life’s burdens. First, Christ longs to give us rest through the sharing of our burdens — with him and with others. He desires that we come to him in prayer to share what is heaviest and most difficult in our lives. Therefore, our prayer with the Lord can include our deep sadness, our greatest angers and disappointments; he can handle these burdens and offers us guidance when our load feels the heaviest. Additionally, he wants us to bring these burdens to the body of Christ; he encourages us to share our struggles with those we trust. He does not expect us to trudge along alone.
Finally, this passage teaches us that sharing our burdens does not relieve us of the responsibility of working with God and neighbor to relieve our greatest burdens. In other words, praying and sharing our difficulties makes the burden lighter, but we can’t simply sit waiting for God and others to carry the full load. Rather, it is in walking with Christ and neighbor that we begin to encounter the restful waters and green pastures for which we long.
What burden is God inviting you to share today with him or with a trusted friend?
Fr. Brennan, vocation director at St. Norbert Abbey, De Pere, earned master of divinity and theology degrees from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.