At the time, Jesus said, “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my Yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11: 27-30 (Gospel on the Feast of St. Savas)
“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices!” These are the lyrics to well-known Christmas carol, “O Holy Night.” Certain translations of today’s Gospel passage translate the passage “all who labor and are heavy laden,” (Matthew 11:28) as “all who work and who are weary.” This Gospel lesson always makes me think of this Christmas carol, which is why it is appropriate that this Gospel is read every year on December 5 (and on other days when we commemorate ascetics in the church). This year it seems that many of us are especially weary, not only from our jobs, caring for our families, and trying to touch all the bases in life. We are also weary of the covid pandemic, social unrest, the never ending news cycle, politics, and the uncertainty that have marked this year as the most stressful ever, for some of us.
Today’s Gospel paints the picture of a yoke that joins two animals together. The yoke might join two horses who are pulling a carriage, or two mules who are pulling a plow. The yoke forces the two animals to face in the same direction and move together. Some might view the yoke as oppressive, because it limits freedom. Others might view the yoke as efficient because it keeps people going in the same direction.
Christ paints the image of the yoke because many of the people who heard Him speak two thousand years ago were farmers, and would have understood this image. He tells us that His yoke is not oppressive, but rather easy.
There are two ways to look at the word “yoke”. One can interpret this image as being someone who is under the yoke of Christ, so that one’s life is guided by His teachings and by faith in Him. One can also interpret this image that one is yoked to Christ, meaning, we walk side by side with Christ, under the yoke of faith. In either interpretation, the point is that when we take on the yoke of God, or are yoked to Christ, our lives move in an orderly and efficient direction, in “lock step” so to speak with Christ. When we walk like this with Him in this life, it will be easy to walk with Him into everlasting life.
The reason why this Gospel lesson is read today (and on the days of other ascetic saints) is to honor St. Savas, a devout monastic, who forsook the world and yoked his life to Christ as a monk. He founded monasteries, worked miracles, had great discernment and did extensive writing on monastic rules of life. Saint Savas lived from 439-532.
Many of us feel heavy laden with the burdens of life. We are weary from the journey. We are looking for an oasis, a place to quench our thirst for peace. One of the most beautiful things about being a Christian is that Christ, through prayer, worship, the Eucharist, and the Scriptures, provides a place for us to fine rest for our souls. A daily habit of setting aside even a few minutes to pray and reflect brings refreshment, refocus, and reenergizes us. Worship, when properly done (when we are able to be present, when we come on time, when we participate) is like a spiritual therapy session. Seasons like the Nativity Fast and Lent can almost become like mini vacations, as we dedicate more time to meditating on spiritual things. I’ve always tried to treat Holy Week like a mini vacation, spending as much time in prayer and reflection, in addition to the many services. Just stopping for a few minutes to pray, in fact just stopping for a few minutes can reinvigorate us.
As life seems to go faster and faster, as the years fly by and we consider our own mortality, as well as wonder what is the meaning of all of it, when we are under the yoke of God, we don’t have to wonder if we’ve strayed from the path. We can walk confidently ahead, knowing that His yoke will keep us on the right road, the one that leads to everlasting life, and the one that provides comfort and refreshment in the difficult times of life on earth.
Come to Christ if you are weary and heavy laden and you will find rest. Come to Christ to find rest to avoid becoming to weary. Walk under the yoke of Christ and even when you become weary, you can still feel confident that you are walking in the right direction.
With the rivers of your tears you made the barren desert bloom; and with your sighs from deep within, you made your labors bear their fruits a hundredfold; and you became a star, illuminating the world by your miracles, O Savas, our devout father. Intercede with Christ our God, for the salvation of our souls. (Apolytikion of St. Savas, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Christ provides a thrill of hope and a reason for the weary world to rejoice, on all days, and in all seasons of the year and of life!