Homily July 20th, 2023 

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time – Mt 11:20-24

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us three very comforting verses. He tells us, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Part of the beauty of these verses lies in the very specific words that Christ uses, words that are very difficult to translate into English. Let’s consider just two of these words, meek and easy, and see how they can shed light on the difficulties we experience in this life and God is present to us in the midst of them.

First, Jesus tells us that “He is meek,” and because of this, we should accept His yoke. That word translated as meek is πραΰς [praus] in Greek; it uses a very difficult-to-translate root (pra-) which means more than just “meek” in the English sense. Usually when we say someone is meek, we mean that they’re quiet, or submissive, or timid. The word in Greek, though, makes reference to power and to strength, but a strength that’s kept under very careful control.1 [1]In fact, that “word . . . was used by the Greeks to describe a horse that had been broken.” The wild horse that was once powerful, wild, and uncontrolled, remains powerful even when broken, but now it is reserved and that power is directed. “It refers to power under control.”[2]

This meekness of Christ’s heart, then, is not a weakness or a being timid, but rather means that He exercises all His strength but under control; He shows and uses His power without undue harshness. God permits what He knows we can handle, nothing more, but oftentimes not a whole lot less either. It’s at the limit, the maximum. Jesus is meek, even in the difficult moments, because He knows what it is we can handle, and, like a strong medicine, He gives us the maximum dose so we can become saints, which is what will truly make us happy. Do we really trust in Him and in His meekness?

The second complicated word is easy. Christ tells that we will find rest because “His yoke is easy.” The Greek word for easy is χρηστός [chréstos]. Literally the word can mean “well- fitting,” and to understand this better the historical context is very important. In Biblical Palestine, yokes were made from wood, and the process to make one was very involved: the ox would need to be taken to the carpenter and measured. A rough model of the yoke was made, and the ox would be brought back to try it on. Lastly, the carpenter would make the final precise adjustments so that it would sit perfectly on the ox, and not rub at all or cause any sort of discomfort for the animal. “The yoke, [then], was tailor-made to fit the ox,”[3] and was more like a custom-made suit or dress than some mass-produced artifact.

Jesus says, “My yoke fits well.” What he means is: “The life I give you, with all its difficulties, with all its challenges and rough parts, isn’t something that’s meant just to hurt you or make you suffer; rather, your task, your duties, your calling, your life, is made exactly for you, to get you from this earth, to heaven.” Whatever God sends us is made to fit our needs and our abilities exactly.

We can ask ourselves, do we see our struggles, our difficulties, and our challenges as the well-fitting yoke of Christ, as things that are meant to get us to heaven? Do we stop and think that our yoke is tailor-made for us, something God, in His infinite wisdom and love, designed for us before all ages, so that we could carry it to heaven? Or do we just complain, and ask God to remove everything that’s unpleasant from our lives?

Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, for the grace to really take the meek Christ’s gentle yoke upon us, so we can learn from Him and at last enter into His rest.

[1] HELPS “Word-studies Cognate: 4239 praýs (also listed as 4239a/praupathia in NAS dictionary) – meek. See 4236 (praótēs). This difficult-to-translate root (pra-) means more than ‘meek.’ Biblical meekness is not weakness but rather refers to exercising God’s strength under His control – i.e. demonstrating power without undue harshness.”

[2] Bible Exposition Commentary, 21.

[3] For this paragraph, see William Barclay’s commentary on Mt 11:28-30.



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