Today Jesus speaks words of consolation, some favorite verses that many battle-tested Christians have memorized: “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.”
The connection is commonly missed, but in this passage, Jesus is emphasizing two vital points. With Biblical interpretation there is both the historical perspective and the spiritual meaning. With the historical context Jesus is alluding to the scene in 1 Kings. In 1 Kings 12, is the account of the transition from King Solomon to Rehoboam, his heir, and the subsequent tragic splitting of the Kingdom of David into North and South. The backdrop of the story reveals after King Solomon’s death, the people of Israel came to Rehoboam because they were burdened from forced labor, and wanted rest from heavy taxation. They pleaded with Rehoboam the crown prince to “lighten their yoke” of taxation and forced labor. But Rehoboam was arrogant and swaggering - he promised them a “heavy yoke” and an increase in unjust burdens. As a result, the northern tribes “divorced” the Son of David and returned to their own homes. They chose a different king, Jeroboam, and the sorry disintegration of the once-great Kingdom of David began. It turned from a united kingdom into a fractured one.
The second aspect of this passage illustrates the spiritual context in that the new King, Jesus, will deny Himself for us and offer us a heavenly companion as we experience our trials. Indeed, saying my yoke is easy doesn’t mean we won’t experience challenges. The Catholic faith assures of our fate in suffering. As Bishop Sheen commented, "We are guarenteed crosses in life. There are only two things we can do with crosses - carry them or kick against them. We can merge them in God's plan for life and thus make them serve our inner peace and happiness, or we can stumble over them to the len of the weeping."
The description of a yoke is fitting in grasping that the yoke is the key to how to carry our crosses. A yoke is a wooden beam that holds the heads of two animals plowing a field. Here, picture two oxen pulling a heavy plow. The yoke connects them so that they can pull the burdensome plow together. This yoke, this wooden beam also represents carrying our cross. Because when we view the yoke, it connects two objects at the horizontal level much like the arms of the cross, whereas the wooden beam that connects at the vertical level is connected to whatever it is pulling – be it a plow or wagon. So, as we are carrying our horizontal cross, it is connected to Christ who is also bearing our plow. And the plow is represented by our burdens, our worries, and our sufferings. Therefore, Christ is right alongside us lugging our burdens much like Simon of Sire is beside Christ helping Him carry His cross.
Throughout your journeying in life, it might feel that you are alone with temptation and obstacles encircling you. But with this imagery of yoke, Christ is showing us that He is very much near and active in supporting our struggles. This is why he says “my yoke is easy” – for when we allow Him to carry our burdens for us, it becomes easier for us.
God does allow suffering for us, but unlike King Rehoboam, He doesn’t give us burdens and leave us to wither from it alone. Rather, Christ is yoked to us in helping us through our challenges in life.