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A yoke is a wooden beam or frame tied to humans or animals used for pulling heavy objects – an old practice of farming and moving wagons or carriages. In the Biblical sense, the yoke is a metaphor for slavery or captivity because the owners forced the slaves to work, harnessed to yokes. It could also mean a heavy burden imposed on the people. During the reign of Solomon, he levied an oppressive tax on the people for his construction projects. After the king’s death, “Jeroboam and the whole assembly of Israel came and they said to Rehoboam, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us. If you now lighten the harsh servitude and the heavy yoke your father imposed on us, we will be your servants’” (1 Kgs 12:3-4). Jeremiah made thongs and yoke bars and put them on his shoulders (Jer 27:2) to warn the people of Judah about the upcoming slavery in Babylon for them.

Instead of the heavy yoke the Scribes and the Pharisees imposed on the people, Jesus invited his listeners to accept his harness, a lighter yoke. That is the new covenant of sacrificial love that he established. The yoke of Jesus is not forced labor, but our freewill submission to him obeying his teachings.

We are under the yoke when someone or something controls us. It can be an addiction, sin, or people who manipulate us. So, Paul warned Corinthians, “Do not be yoked with those who are different, with unbelievers” (2 Cor 6:14). “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). We cannot avoid “yoke” altogether because we must rely on others and systems in our lives. If we pull the yoke in partnership with Christ, he will help us move forward with ease. Then it will be a relief, rather than a burden. He is the support whom we can trust and who will guide us to his Father, our ultimate destination. Thus, Jesus offered a lighter and helpful yoke to replace the burdensome religious practices of the Pharisees.

While the yoke of the Scribes and the Pharisees was heavy, Jesus offered another one that was easy and light to be harnessed to. They made the observances of the commandments so tough that people found them difficult to practice, lacking as they did in God’s love and mercy. Thus, the essence of the commandments and genuine spirit behind them were missing. “For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn 5:3).

When Jesus said his yoke was easy, it referred to how it would be beneficial to the one who carries it. Jesus summarized all the commandments of God in one word: love. That means the love of God and fellow humans. That lightens the burdens of the heart. Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Jesus has carried the burdensome cross for us. He invites us to follow him with a lighter cross that is easy to carry when we accompany him with ours. The yoke we carry will be the natural difficulties we face when we work for the kingdom of God or our Christian responsibilities in the family and in society.


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