One day a man saw a small boy carrying a still smaller boy on his back. The smaller boy was lame. As they passed by, the man commented to the small boy, "That's a heavy burden for you to carry." The small boy answered, "He's no burden, Mister. He's my little brother." The yoke of Jesus is not a burden, it is kind (easy) and light.
To understand fully the Gospel text of today, two points must be kept in mind. The first is that it is placed by Matthew after three “negative” passages which begin at 11:2. These are the response of Jesus to the disciples of John the Baptist to their question whether Jesus was the Messiah, the exasperation with the crowd who do not recognize John nor Jesus, and the denunciation of the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. Indeed, this entire section of Matthew’s Gospel seems to lean on a sense of apparent “failure” on the part of Jesus to measure up to the expectations that all around him had in terms of what a “Messiah” would look like or act like.
The second point is that this text is clearly a Matthean composition and is made of three elements. This first two of these are found in Luke but in different contexts and the third is exclusive to Matthew. In Matthew the audience is clearly the crowds and so the words of Jesus here are meant for all. The passage appearing as it does in this context seeks to state that despite so much of doubt and negativity, that despite so much of blindness and closed attitudes, this is not the last word. Despite the fact that Jesus’ message has been questioned by John the Baptist, rejected by many and especially the wise and understanding and not paid heed to by the cities, yet the invitation and message will find acceptance among the open and receptive of which there are still some left. There is no arbitrariness in this. Rather, it is simply true that for the most part the wise tend to become proud and self-sufficient in their wisdom and particularly unreceptive regarding the new and the unexpected. This is because they have already made up their minds about what kind of Messiah is to come. On the other hand the childlike are most often unself-conscious, open, dependent, and receptive. They are willing to let God work in their lives. They have not decided in advance how God must act and are willing to let God be God. Thus everything comes down finally to the person of Jesus and the nature of the fulfillment he brings. He cannot be understood if he is restricted to preconceived categories; he will not conform to human conceptual frameworks. He must be understood as God knows him, as the one who on behalf of the Father always does his will
This note of joy brought by faith already sounds in the words of Zechariah, in the first reading. 'Rejoice, daughter of Zion! Shout with gladness', Zechariah cries out, rejoice because the messiah king is coming – doing away with the 'horses' and other things of war, he will ride on a donkey, but strong and triumphant, as he brings a peace that embraces the whole world. Despite the overwhelming significance of his person, the relationship he shares with the Father and the fact that the total Mission was given him by the Father, Jesus comes meekly and humbly as a servant, like the Messiah King about whom Zechariah prophesied.
Jesus invites all to come to him, to enter into relationship with him, and to follow him in discipleship. It is his yoke to which he calls; it is he who gives rest. The fact that Jesus’ yoke is kind and his burden is light must not be misunderstood to mean that the discipleship and righteousness to which Jesus calls are easy and undemanding. Discipleship demands nothing less than life commitment and a total denial of self. This is what Paul means when he tells the Romans that they must not live unspiritual lives, but show that they belong to Christ and are his disciples by choosing the spiritual over the unspiritual.
Because Jesus brings the new era of grace and salvation through his intimate relationship with his Father, he is both qualified and able to reveal him as unconditional love and mercy. While “yoke” signifies obedience, it could also, if misunderstood, become a burden that is too heavy to carry. In Jesus’ understanding, the experience of serving God is not a burden and does not cause fatigue. On the contrary since the yoke is easy and the burden is light, it leads only to joy. Thus, his yoke is not just a yoke from him but also a yoke with him. To take the yoke of Christ is to associate and identify ourselves with him: our destiny with his destiny, our vision with his vision and our mission with his mission. It is to know that we are not pulling the yoke alone and by our power but together with Christ and by the strength that comes from him. It is to know that with him and in him the yoke is easy and the burden light.