The Yoke of Mission

T. E. Lawrence was astonished by the things his Bedouin companions noticed in the desert. Where Lawrence saw only a bleak expanse of sand, the Bedouin saw animal tracks, small plants, evidence of water and places to hide from the sun. They could squint into the noontime glare and spot the approach of fellow travellers or opposing armies long before Lawrence’s eyes could pick them out. They knew the rhythms of the desert, the wind patterns and seasonal changes that predicted sandstorms or an abundance of lifegiving dew. According to Lawrence, the desert was a mother to the Bedouin, and he never ceased to be amazed at their understanding of her ways.


‘Although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to little ones.’ (Mt 11:25)

Liturgical day
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), July 9, 2017
Zec 9:9-10, Ps 145, Rom 8:9-13, Mt 11:25-30

What experiences remind you of your dependence on God? What do you learn from them?

What experiences hide God from you?

What burdens can you let Christ carry?

Jesus offers us a similar insight this week. During his active ministry, he lived his life utterly dependent on divine providence. He emphasized this dependence to his disciples before he sent them out to preach in his name. This was no ascetical exercise; it was the necessary path to God. A person completely dependent on God becomes sensitive to the subtle rhythms of divine action in the world. Jesus was a child of God as Lawrence’s Bedouin were children of the desert.

Jesus recognized a similar sensitivity among the poor and simple of his day. They knew their dependence on providence, and it sharpened their awareness of God’s action in the world. These “little ones” recognized Jesus before anyone else did so. They saw in Jesus a source of the same grace they had relied on all their lives.

These “little ones” recognized Jesus before anyone else did so. They saw in Jesus a source of the same grace they had relied on all their lives.

The wise and the learned, meanwhile, had forgotten the lessons of dependence. Jesus’ actions perplexed and troubled them. Something in their education caused them to lose sight of their dependence on God. Perhaps it was because they had attained social status and comfort. Perhaps they came to believe that in their learning they had every answer they would need to make their own way through life. Just as a climatologist might be able to describe a desert but not survive in it, the wise and learned of Jesus’ day were able to talk about God more easily than they could recognize the action of grace.

The first part of today’s Gospel also appears in Luke, but the second part, Mt 11:28-30, is unique to Matthew. The statement is a paradox: The yoke symbolizes the burden of servitude, yet Jesus promises a “yoke of rest.” Matthew understands a life dependent on God to be a life of freedom. Jesus offers the same yoke that he bears, the saving mission he receives from the Father. Like most yokes, it has two collars to distribute the load. As the disciples discovered, to take up Jesus’ yoke means to give up fantasies of control and self-importance. At the same time, they learned that Jesus did all the heavy lifting. His is a yoke of rest.

In the midst of our relief, we can still find plenty to do. Jesus needs our feet to move with his. He needs us to watch his labor and assist as we can. As Bedouin are children of the desert, we will, yoked to Christ, learn to become children of God.

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