Dear Parishioners and Visitors: please enjoy this guest column by Fr. Peter Tyner. —Msgr. Richard
Some things in life are simply counter-intuitive. Take the bicycle seat, for example. One would think that the more padded the seat is, the more comfortable your bicycle ride is going to be. This is often not the case, however. If you ride mostly on the road, then your best option for a saddle (that is the preferred term) is a firm one or even a hard leather one that you have broken in after riding on it for a while. Seems crazy, right?
As it turns out, we all have “sit bones.” These are two points on our hip bone that can hold our weight. For us to be comfortable, these bones need to be resting on top of a firm surface. A heavily padded seat will merely have us shifting about as we ride. The result is that our weight is placed on our flesh and not on our bones, which makes us sore. While a lot of padding can cushion the bumps along the way, it will cause us to be sore after a long ride.
The same is true for oxen and their yokes. For a preindustrial farmer’s oxen to be comfortable, and thus cooperative, while plowing the field, the yoke needed to be made right. The yoke had to be fashioned so that the wood rested firmly on the oxen’s “push bones” found on their shoulders. If the yoke was not made well, the oxen would soon moan in pain because they would be pushing with their now-bruised muscles.
Jesus knew all about this. As a carpenter in ancient Galilee he would have been called upon to make wooden yokes along with just about anything else made of wood. He knew how to make a good yoke, one that was easy and light on the oxen it was made for. Jesus and those listening could very well have been smiling when he said “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light,” since many knew he had previously been making yokes for a living.
Of course, Jesus was not advertising his services as a carpenter. He was talking about the kingdom of God. It comes as an invitation to take on his yoke — that is, to learn from him and to follow the Father as he did. The initial challenge is that we see the yoke he offers, and we shudder. Over the past couple of Sundays, we have heard about the commitment that the kingdom of God commands. We must place God above all other things, even our lives. The yoke being offered does not look to be easy and light, but hard and brutal. We think that we want one that is padded and soft.
Yet, what is true about bicycle seats is true about the yokes one takes on in life — softer is not always easier. The yoke that Jesus offers to us rests upon the hard realities that we know in our bones. That some things are worth risking everything for. That evil must be confronted in its many forms if humanity is ever going to know justice and thus live in peace. When we cave under fear, we take on a yoke that is fashioned for us by those who rule through power of sin and death. It may look soft (“Just do as you’re told, and you will not get hurt and even rewarded”), but we will only become sore under its oppression. God offers us the freedom of his kingdom instead — and though it looks counterintuitive, following Jesus and taking on his yoke is the way to our ultimate joy.
—Peter Tyner, OSB