Jesus just said his yoke is easy and his burden is light. I beg to differ. To truly follow Jesus means to love, and love is hard work. To love means to take ourselves out of the center of our universes and allow God to take God’s rightful place there. To love means to admit that it is never about us – it is always about God. To love means to allow other people to be who they are, no matter how uncomfortable that makes us feel. To love means to allow ourselves to be who we are, no matter how uncomfortable that makes us feel. The yoke of self-centeredness seems so much lighter, because it is easy to judge people and situations by our own checklist of appropriate actions and attitudes. Love does not have such clearcut guidelines, and so it seems more difficult.
But of course, our feelings deceive us. The weight of self-centeredness pulls us down until eventually we close in ourselves, creating a black hole where nothing can escape: a tiny, pitiful false universe called “the world of me”. We all know that, because we all carry the burden of pretending to be self-existent at some point each day. Jesus calls us out of that burden into the realization that only God is self-existent, and yet God freely and lovingly gives us existence so that we can enjoy the wonderful world around us. It is all about God, and when we live in that realization, our only job is to be ourselves and be thankful for all that we have been given. On the other hand, when we try to live in the falsehood of “it’s all about me”, we take on the burden of making sure everything and everyone fits into our categories of propriety, and that is a lot of hard work. Of course, all that work is for nothing, because anything we create, including our own petty worlds of fear, are destined to dissolve. But the true, wonderful world God creates is destined to grow ever more and become ever more real.
So, maybe Jesus is right. His yoke isn’t really all that easy, and his burden isn’t really all that light, but in the long run, it is much easier and lighter than the yokes and burdens we impose upon ourselves. Of course, in order to learn to live under the yoke of Jesus, we need the help of discipline so that we do not slip back into our own yokes. And of course, the word “yoke” come from the same root as discipline, anyway – hence the resemblance to the word “yoga”. Discipline is good – it is something a disciple does. Unfortunately, we often confuse discipline with punishment, but the two have nothing to do with each other. Disciplines are techniques for growth.
One path of discipline that has helped many disciples follow Jesus is the monastic way. Some have confused it with punishment, but if followed willingly and openly, it is a path of discipleship that can help us live more and more in the truth that it is not all about me. It can seem difficult and frightening at times, as can any way of following Jesus. But as Benedict says in the Prologue to his Rule: “Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run in the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.”
It is our choice: whose yoke do we want, and how will we learn to live with that yoke. AMEN