(13th Ordinary Sunday: 1 Kings 19:16-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62)
Anyone who has seen traditional farming knows what a yoke is: a wooden structure placed over the neck of animals, for plowing or pulling heavy loads. Often two animals are yoked together, sharing the burden. This is part of the setting of the first reading.
St. Paul, however, uses the term in a figurative sense. “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” He goes on to say that if we abuse our freedom, we are not free.
Does this remind you of a saying of Jesus? It is not in today’s Gospel, but rather in Matthew 11:30: “My yoke is easy, and my burden light.” This is usually understood as a yoke that Jesus places on our shoulders. But another possible reading is that he is inviting us to bear his yoke with him, to share in carrying his burden.
Either way, a right submission is required, a willingness to know his will and a desire to carry it out. This means, in a sense, exchanging one yoke for another. At La Salette, Mary offers a choice: submit humbly to the simple requirements of faith, or submit grudgingly to sufferings over which we have no control.
In today’s Gospel, three different persons decide to follow Christ. In the third case Jesus uses a farming image, close to that of the first reading: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
St. Paul also reminds of another dimension of conversion: “The whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is close to what he writes in the next chapter of this letter: “Bear one another’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
It is hard for us to change, and we often bear the burden of sin. The Church offers us the sacrament of Reconciliation to remove that weight, and to restore us to our freedom in Christ. The Beautiful Lady did not speak of this, but she had the same result in mind.
There is another striking image in the first reading that we do not wish to omit, that of Elijah’s mantle, symbolizing the passing on of the prophetic role. Has not Mary spread her mantle over us?
Fr. René Butler, M.S. and Wayne Vanasse