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What’s So Easy About It?
Deacon Mike Meyer / Sunday, July 9, 2023 / Categories: Blog, Homilies

What’s So Easy About It?

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

          When my daughters attended Immaculate Conception School, the third-grade curriculum included a “simple machines” project. There was nothing simple about it. Simple machines, you’ll recall, are the most basic tools that use mechanical advantage to multiply force. There are six – the lever, wheel and axle, pulley, inclined plane, wedge, and screw. The project required eight-year-old children to create a device incorporating at least three simple machines. The children designed their projects in school and then brought them home for their hapless parents to help them build. My daughter Caitlin designed a chicken feeder that incorporated all six simple machines. When she shared her plan with me, it didn’t take me long to figure out that her design wouldn’t work. Then the fighting began. I griped to my pastor about the project, telling him that I had already passed the third grade and didn’t see a need to repeat it. He dutifully reminded me that we Catholics believe that parents have the first responsibility for educating our children. “It’s the yoke Jesus asks us to bear,” he explained. I snapped back, “Well if this project is Jesus’ yoke, what’s so easy about it?”

          In several places in the Gospel, Jesus makes clear that the Christian life isn’t always easy. He tells us that we have to renounce all we have (Luke 14:33), we’ll be seized and persecuted (Luke 21:12), and we have to take up our cross to follow him (Matt. 16:24). That’s not easy. So what does Jesus mean when he says his yoke is easy and his burden light? Well, a “yoke,” Y-O-K-E, is the wooden crosspiece placed over the necks of oxen to help them pull a plow or cart. In the original Greek text, the word describing Jesus’ yoke translated as “easy” is chrestós (χρηστός), which is better understood as “fitting” or “good.” Plowing and pulling carts is hard work, for sure, so the yoke has to fit the oxen properly. That’s why yokes are custom-made for each animal. Jesus is telling us, then, that his yoke, his way of living, fits us; it’s made for us; it's good for us. Jesus’ yoke isn’t a burden; it’s a force-multiplying advantage, a gift given in love that helps us bear the world’s weight on our shoulders.  

          So why is Jesus’ yoke so fitting? It’s custom-made for each one of us. Jesus came to show us how to live as God intended, how we were created to live before sin entered the picture. Jesus always chose good over evil; he welcomed all and rejected no one; he loved and never hated. Jesus’ life is the life we’re meant to live. It’s the life that fits us; that’s good for us. Jesus’ yoke is our yoke, and under Jesus’ yoke, with Jesus at our side, there’s no burden we can’t bear. Indeed, we ultimately find rest in Jesus because Jesus has already done the heavy lifting. 

          How do we take up Jesus’s yoke? We live in the Spirit, as Saint Paul urges us to do in our second reading. According to Saint Paul, we have two choices: we can live according to the flesh—a life turned away from God and toward the self; or we can live in the Spirit—a God-focused, Christ-centered, Spirit-driven life. To live in the Spirit, we need to give up fantasies of control and self-importance. We need to be meek and humble of heart, the same qualities foretold of the Messiah in our first reading and claimed by Jesus as his own in our Gospel. We need to develop a deep relationship with God in prayer and at Mass and strengthen ourselves every week with the great gift of the Eucharist. Once we’ve gotten over our bad selves, we need to let the Holy Spirit do her work—guiding, inspiring, and moving us to seek God’s will in all we do.

          Why should we live in the Spirit? Why should we take up Jesus’ yoke? Because life in the flesh, a life without God, leads to death. Life in the Spirit “creates the possibility of living a life truly pleasing to God and . . . set toward a destiny of eternal life.” It’s a life of steady progress toward God that changes how we bear the burdens we carry and our attitude about them. Wiping our children’s noses and bottoms becomes a way to thank God for the beautiful lives God entrusted to our care. Speaking a little louder and repeating what we just said a few minutes ago become opportunities to honor our aging mothers and fathers, as God commanded. Withholding a snarky retort to a Facebook friend’s over-the-top rant becomes an offering of respect for the God-given dignity of every human being. Done grudgingly, these burdens irritate us, leave us bitter, and ultimately separate us from God and the people God calls us to serve. Done in the Spirit, with Christ at our side sharing his yoke, we find that life’s burdens aren’t so heavy after all, because burdens carried in love are always light.

          That’s what happened with Caitlin’s simple machines project. Yes, there was fighting. Yes, there were tears—I think even Caitlin shed a few. And yes, I did my share of griping. But once I got over myself and let the Spirit guide me, I found tremendous satisfaction in helping Caitlin redesign her chicken feeder into a project that worked, and she was proud of. I felt like a good father, and I felt loved and appreciated for the help I gave. I’m happy to say that Caitlin got an A on her simple machines project, and I passed the third grade for the second time. I wouldn’t say that helping Caitlin with her project was easy, but with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and Jesus at my side, it fit me well, and it was good for me.

Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2221.

Brendan Byrne, Romans, vol. 6, Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2007), 239.

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