28 Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt 11: 28-30)
What quotable verses. They've made their way into the scriptural rosary our family uses, and we regularly sing them at Mass as part of a hymn. You can tell from the tune that it's meant to be a comforting and reassuring idea: take a load off, you'll feel better.
But is that true? Is this what the verse means? For once I'm not asking rhetorically -- I really don't know. I do know that this is the kind of thing that makes it easy for people to shrug off the Bible as a whole, if it's going to be full of things that seem to have nothing to do with our actual lives.
I can see that sometimes "my yoke is easy and my burden is light" is just what it sounds like: an invitation to make a change for the better, for the easier, for the happier. You are burdened with sin, and your life is miserable and difficult, and you have no peace or joy. So finally you decide to cast off this worldly burden, and instead take on the burden of righteousness, which leads to the peace that passeth understanding.
Or sometimes that peace is actually easy to understand, even to worldly eyes. Take, for instance, the guy who gives up drunkenness, and is now able to keep a job, raise a happy family, enjoy good health, and so on. He took up the yoke of staying sober, and he finds that burden light. It's not effortless to stick with his new life -- hence the imagery of yoke and burden, not airy bubbles and fairy wings -- but you can see that, compared to what was crushing the fellow before, this burden is easy and light. A yoke is something that keeps you attached to the plow, so that you can prepare the soil for a harvest; so taking on the yoke of Christ is a step toward reaping all sorts of rewards in the future. This is the sort of yoke most of us experience in our lives, and if we're not absolute brats spiritually, we're probably wiling to admit that that darn yoke is a good thing.
Or sometimes the ease and lightness are less obvious: maybe someone has taken on the burden of some direly difficult lifestyle -- working amid squalor and disease in the third world, for instance, or fostering dying children -- and is known to say things like, "Yes, it's hard, but I feel grateful and privileged to be a part of this kind of life." They mean, I suppose, that the spiritual benefits outweigh the temporal burdens they bear. So, their yoke is easy and the burden is light if you take the long (eternal) view, because the person can see the benefits, even if they're sort of difficult benefits.
Or maybe someone has gone through some great suffering, which bewildered and tormented them at the time -- some long and disastrous unemployment, marital strife, or even losing a limb or something -- but now, looking back, they can see the good that came of it. This is the "that's when Jesus was carrying me" theory, à la "Footprints in the Sand." When you are still carrying the burden, you feel alone. You feel that your burden is heavy and your yoke is insupportable. But in retrospect, and now that things are better, you're grateful to have gone through that time, painful though it was, because of how it changed you for the better.
But I get letters. I hear from people who follow Christ in every way they can possibly beat out of their wills, and they get nothing but pain and suffering in return -- not only suffering for themselves, but sorrow and terrible burdens for everyone they love. They're not doing anything wrong. They believe that God is in control. These are people who pray, embrace sacrifice, obey, submit, and unite themselves with the suffering of Christ as much as they possibly can. And yet their suffering is unmitigated. What do I tell them? It's okay -- your yoke is easy and your burden is light? It's okay. Jesus said it was okay.
I understand that we can unite our suffering with Christ's -- that we can elevate any pain or sorrow, and that none of it is lost, none of it has to be in vain. But that makes it worthwhile; that rescues it from futility. It doesn't make it easy or light. I guess I just don't understand why Christ used those particular words.
So I'm asking you, if you have a heavy load. What does this verse mean to you? What does "easy and light" mean?