"My yoke is easy, and my burden light." Mt. 11:30
Every society that seeks good order among its members needs directives, laws and guidelines. Speed limits, stop signs, and traffic signals make sure that cars and trucks proceed safely to their destinations while safeguarding the people on the streets and highways. At the same time, when rules seems excessive we chaff. All of us can remember being funneled from three lanes of traffic into one for several miles only to find no one actually doing anything when we pass the work site. The safety cones, intended to protect workers from speeding traffic, only slow every one down.
Something very similar to this happened at the time of Jesus. The leaders of the Jewish community took the Torah, which the rabbis often called a wall or a "yoke" around the life of the community to guide and protect it, and expanded it beyond its intended use. Rules to regulate the sabbath, for instance, had become overwhelming. In addition to the general laws of sabbath which require Jews not to work, cook, carry things or require others to carry them, there are 39 categories of prohibited things one cannot do on the Sabbath. Within these categories hundreds of other prohibitions had arisen making it almost impossible for the ordinary person to observe the Sabbath well. Jesus rails against the teachers of the law and the Pharisees in this regard, accusing them of laying heavy burdens on people's shoulders and doing nothing to help them. (Mt 23:4) The yoke of the law, intended to guide their behavior for the glory of God, was choking the spirit out of their hearts.
The gospel today assures Jesus' hearers that his "yoke" is easy. Love God completely and love your neighbor as you love yourself will be a binding yoke of charity. Believers who are committed to these simple directives will discipline themselves to develop practices that insure their fulfillment of the law. Prayer, worship, study and service of others will be ordinary, everyday events in the lives of Christians. The yoke of Jesus will free us from self absorption, fill us with gratitude and make us "doers" of the word, people committed to a life of transparent service as a sign of God's enduring love for the world. Properly crafted yokes are sanded smooth so that the animals wearing them hardly feel their presence unless they struggle to move away from their tasks. Jesus' yoke is weightless if we live the gospel simply.
Today, ask to be free of the yoke of guilt and shame.