Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
In the comic strip Peanuts, little Linus is the intellectual, a budding philosopher and problem solver. He’s able to put life into perspective while sucking his thumb and clinging to his security blanket. One day Charlie Brown sees Linus wearing a wooden yoke around his neck. Charlie asks, “What in the world is that?” Linus replies, “This is a ‘yoke.’ I’m going to use it for a special school report. I’m going to tell how the yoke is a symbol of subjection of one individual to another, as Esau to Jacob in Genesis 27:40. Then I’ll tell how the yoke was sometimes placed on the neck of a person reduced to submission. My reference will be Jeremiah 28:10. Then I’ll tell of the yoke placed on Israel by Rehoboam, in 1 Kings 12:9, and wind up by talking about the yoke of sin suggested in Lamentations 1:14, and the ‘easy’ yoke of Matthew 11:29. I think that will cover the subject pretty well.” As Linus walks away Charlie shouts at him, “What about the yoke of inferiority you’ve given me?!”
Charlie Brown wins our hearts with his losing ways. He’s the blockhead, who can’t fly a kite and who never wins a baseball game or the heart of the little red-haired girl he likes so much. In one comic strip he’s standing alone on the pitcher’s mound saying, “We lost again. I can’t stand it. I just can’t stand it. Our losses are so meaningless! I think that’s what bothers me most. We get beaten and no one even knows about it.” In the final frame he walks off with bowed head and dropping shoulders saying, “I think I’ll go home and lie in a dark room.”
There’s an old spiritual from the Civil War days that mirrors Charlie Brown’s burdens, but with a surprising twist. It goes like this: “Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus. Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen, Oh yes, Lord! Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down. Oh yes, Lord! Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus. Glory hallelujah!” Compare that song with the song Ol’ Man River: “Tote that barge and lift dat bale, you show a little grit and you lands in jail. … I gets weary an’ sick of trying, I’m tired of living an’ scared of dying, but Ol’ Man River, he just keeps rollin’ along.” How can one slave sing “Glory Hallelujah” while another is in despair, singing, “Ol’ Man River don’t care if the world’s got troubles, he don’t care if the land ain’t free”?
The difference is Jesus, being yoked to Christ who said, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened … Take my yoke upon you … and you will find rest for your souls.” “Come to me…” Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fr. Simeon, writes, “Jesus turns to us with the sweet command that every lover wants to hear from the beloved, ‘Come to me.’ When we hear these words, we know the time of waiting is over and the time for union has begun. … only those Jesus chooses can know the Father. He gives us this wonderful invitation, ‘Come to me.’ It is the will of the Son to reveal the Father to us, … inviting us into the bridal chamber, to a Lover-God.”1
The wooden yoke that binds a pair of oxen or horses together to plow a field was described by Linus as an ancient symbol of enforced slavery. But the yoke Christ offers is ours to freely receive or reject, “Take my yoke upon you,” he says. We have a choice to bind ourselves to Jesus or not. And the yoke that Jesus offers has a deeper meaning. The Greek and Latin words for yoke also mean “to join together as spouses.” We are invited to a conjugal relationship with Jesus, to be joined with him as with a spouse, to share the whole of life with Jesus who loves us. By saying “Take my yoke upon you,“ Jesus is saying, “Come to me and be my spouse.” The Lord shares his own divine Sonship with us. He shares his strength, his wisdom, his love of life, his divinity and most of all his Father; and he will share in our troubles, our weariness, our sins and fear of dying. Christ yoked his divinity to our human weaknesses, so that our humanity will be joined with his divinity. Left to ourselves we would never find rest. We would never be free from our sins, our mistakes, our failures, our dark rooms.
The difference between those who sing “Glory, Hallelujah” and those who are tired of living and afraid of dying is Christ. Many carry their resentments and burdens alone, but others are yoked with Christ as their spouse. Sometimes we’re up, sometimes we’re down. Jesus knows the trouble we’ve seen. When we go home at life’s end it will not be to a dark room, but to Jerusalem with shouts of rejoicing, (Zech. 9:9-10). So, Charlie Brown, tell that to little Linus!
- Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Ignatius Press, 1996, Vol. 1, p. 708f.