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The noun “zygos” (ζυγός) is figuratively understood as “yoke” throughout all six occurrences in NT (Mt 11:29, 30; Acts 15:10; Gal 5:1; 1 Tm 6:1). From the literal “yoke” which refers to an instrument designed to keep a pair of beasts of burden walking and working in tandem, it could mean, metaphorically, enslavement, oppression, or even punishment. During the time of Jesus, the lives of the tenant farmers were governed by the wills and whims of their landlords. Their lives as rustic folk were further controlled by religious leaders who grew fat on tithes that they hoarded in the temple instead of redistributing them to the needy. They laid the “yoke” of their 613 commandments on their followers who sought their advice on how to be righteous and please God, (cf Mt 23, esp. v4). No wonder a lawyer, making some sort of prioritization a necessity, asked Jesus which of these is the greatest, (Mt 22:36).

In today’s Gospel, (Mt 11:25-30), the invitation to come to Christ as the divine revealer, who is both the agent and the content of the mystery of God (v27a,27b), echoes Wisdom’s call found in Sirach 51:23-27: both begin with the praise of God (v25-26; Sir 51:1) and the description of the kind of yoke follows. In contrast to loads of legal obligations placed by Jewish leaders, Jesus promises to all who come to Him that He will give them rest from the heavy burden of trying to earn their way into heaven and rest from the oppressive yoke of self-righteousness and legalism. Jesus understands that any kind of law-keeping is burdensome and amounts to a “heavy yoke” of oppression because no amount of law-keeping can bridge the gap between man’s sinfulness and God’s holiness. But his yoke is light and easy to carry because it is the yoke of repentance and faith followed by a singular commitment to follow Him, (’take up your cross and follow me’, 10:38). As the apostle John says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Furthermore, it is easy to bear because they receive the yoke of a leader who, in the spirit of Zechariah (cf. 1st reading 9:9-10), comes in the spirit of the the “anawim” as lowly and gentle (v29). While requiring a righteousness that surpasses that of the Jewish leaders (5:20), Jesus offers both the end and the means which makes the commitment both simpler and profoundly engaging. And continuing the image of the yoke of the beast of burden, it will, as if, be carried in tandem with Jesus, which makes it lighter to bear. For he offers the teaching of the upright way and the spiritual force to observe it.

As we answer the invitation of Jesus to come to him may we recognize him as the Teacher and the message, the teaching, and the revelation of the Father himself, He and the Father being one. And whenever we get tired of “running the race and fighting the good fight” Jesus assures us not to worry and will refresh us because we are doing his work. Amen.