Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Isaiah prays, “The way of the just is smooth, O Lord; the path of the just you make level.” By following Christ, we have chosen to walk the way of the just and our path is scraped smooth, made level by the Lord. For us, he fills the potholes; he flattens out the hills so that our pilgrimage along behind him is no burden, nothing and no one stands in our way. Can any one of us claim that our journey along the way has been free of bumps and bruises, free of aches and pains, and the occasional head-on collision? Can any of us claim that we have never encountered a nearly insurmountable obstacle along the way? The Lord has smoothed and leveled the way to Him, but the ways we must travel through this world remain as potholed, as steep, and as dangerous as ever. So, Jesus makes this invitation: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. . .For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” When we choose to become beasts of burden in the fields of Christ, we do the work but he leads the way. And if we follow his lead, we learn all we need to learn to make this world's steep climbs and potholes level and smooth.
The first thing we must notice about becoming beasts of burden for Christ is that we choose this way of life. No one sells us into slavery to Christ. We are not born as yoked pilgrims. Even if our parents gave us to Christ as children, at some point along the way, we deliberately choose to stay yoked and working. Having freely chosen the burden of working for Christ and with him, we are obligated to learn all that he has to teach us. And like all students everywhere, we sometimes see our instruction as an intrusion, something to be rebelled against, thrown off. It's a beautiful day. There's fun to be had. Friends call for our attention. And here we are: yoked, strapped in, and following behind the Master, pulling a wagon for Jesus! But we chose this yoke. We freely elected to be yoked. Why? Maybe we believed Jesus when he said that his yoke is easy and his burden light. Maybe we calculated the cost/benefit of being easily and lightly yoked and decided that the benefits outweigh the costs. Or, maybe, we recognized in Christ our only chance to live just and holy lives and jumped at his offer to become his beasts of burden. Regardless of our motivations, we chose this. We sold ourselves to the Lord and now we serve as wagon mules for Jesus!
Before us, all the way to the Lord, the way is level and smooth. No potholes to dodge, no hills to climb. Behind us, a light load and a patient driver. The yoke we wear doesn't chafe. And yet, all too often for our own good, we feel bound and restricted, locked-in, and oppressed by our work. We know this road. We know every inch, every pebble, every stray blade of grass. The view never changes—always forward, toward another weigh station. How did go from sinners who gladly accepted the yoke of Christ to Christians who balk at the kindest command from our driver? When Jesus invited us to take on his easy yoke, he made it perfectly clear that his yoke is a tool for learning, an instrument for teaching us to be just and holy. If the way appears potholed and steep, it's b/c we have stopped learning, closed ourselves to being taught. Like a stubborn mule needing bridle and bit, we have rebelled against our freely chosen yoke and decided that being a sinner freed to sin is easier, lighter. Have we learned all that Christ has to teach us? Have we graduated from his school of virtue? When are we just enough, holy enough to liberate ourselves from his yoke and walk alone? If we sometimes see the way as potholed and steep, it's b/c we no long choose to learn from Christ. With Christ, as his beast of burden, his student, nothing stands in our way. No road is too rough, no hill to steep. Without him, we are just stubborn mules.
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