Joseph’s Yokes

yoked oxen

In honor of the feast of St. Joseph on March 19, we share this reflection on how Joseph may have influenced Jesus’ teaching example in Matthew 11:28–30.

Jesus and I played together as boys in the streets of Nazareth. I liked to run to the carpenter’s shop to watch his dad skillfully construct all kinds of things out of wood.

Joseph mastered the yoke so necessary to guide oxen in the fields. They fit each animal perfectly. Joseph would custom-design a yoke for a farmer’s specific animals. Joseph measured height and shoulder width so that the yokes allowed oxen to work comfortably together. Under a well-constructed yoke, they could work easily as a team. People from all over came to Joseph for the best yokes.

That was the skill that Jesus and I watched between games and scuffles long ago.

I now live in Capernaum. Everything seems to be going wrong for me lately. Why? The law feels like a burden. How can I pray when all I see are troubles? We are barely making it; our savings are gone.

I went to the village to find some solutions, and there was my childhood friend, preaching. I paused and melted into the crowd, listening as he praised God his Father. He talked about how God hid things from the learned and wise but revealed them to childlike souls.

Jesus made eye contact with me, the corners of his mouth turning up just slightly, and I felt as if our childhood days suddenly came to mind, inspiring him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,” he said, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”

I could almost smell the sawdust and hear the sandpaper swooshing across the wood as his father silently coaxed it into shape. I suddenly remembered Jesus’ mother coming out to us in the carpentry shop, bringing a pitcher of water and offering each of us a drink. Joseph would pause, wiping the sweat from his face with his sleeve, and lovingly peck Mary on the cheek before downing the water in one gulp.

There was an intangible something special about this family. Still it was hard for me to accept the rumors circulating that Jesus was the Messiah.

His words riveted me to the spot. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” Jesus said, looking at me again. It was as if he could see my inner struggles, my overwhelmed life. My hunched shoulders suddenly lifted.

Of course, Jesus learned how to make a yoke from his father. Now he was preaching about a light yoke. Could my old playmate really carry off my concerns? Could he really be God’s anointed one?

Hearing Jesus gave me courage. My mind remembered inspiring words from the Torah. Yes, God can get me through these difficulties. I felt renewed hope.

I went to the village looking for temporary solutions to temporal problems. I came home with a longer-term solution: reliance on the providence of God.

About Loretta Pehanich 44 Articles
Loretta Pehanich is a spiritual director and author of Fleeting Moments: Praying When You Are Too Busy. She is involved with the Center for Ignatian Spirituality in Sacramento and its program in giving the Spiritual Exercises. She has more than 20 years of experience in ministry, including retreat work and small group leadership. Loretta currently works as a consultant and Catholic writer for a number of national media. She and her husband have four children and nine grandchildren.

14 Comments on Joseph’s Yokes

  1. Thank you so much. Your meditation has touched me deeply. I love to imaging Jesus as a boy with Mary and Joseph.

  2. I am not at all good at imagining myself in the stories of the bible, but this story took me right into it. I would love to read more of them from this perspective. Thank you.

  3. Your reflection reminds me of a day with a base community in Chile. We were sharing images of God that were meaningful to each of us. After several had shared rather well-known images, a farmer spoke up an said, “For me, my God is the other oxen. We talk to each other all day as we plow the field. The yoke is light when I carry it with my God.” Oh, that we all had the wisdom of this unlettered campesino.

  4. Thank you, Loretta! I felt for one of the first times what is meant by being AT place, being IN the story, indeed being WITHJesus or Mary or Joseph. Frankly, I really never thought of Jesus as a young boy, and who he would “hang with“ – who were his young friends? (Now I have to imagine a game of hide and seek with his cousin, John.)
    When I have difficulty reflecting I will return to this offering. I am grateful the Lord steered me to discover your words today, to read them when I really needed them.Happy Advent!

  5. Thank you for sharing with us God’s gift of imagination to us! Thank you for encouraging us to spend more time meditating upon Jesus’ hidden life!

  6. This story made me feel like my burdens can be lifted by letting God take them on. I love how you humanized Jesus and brought the reader into the story.

  7. What did one ox say to the other ox? “The yoke’s on you!”
    The story was a nice mediation on all of us carrying our burdens with the Lord’s help–horrible burdens if we try to go it without Him.

  8. And as I read your comment, what comes to my mind is where the farmers stands as they propel the team forward. Don’t they stand behind?
    Hmm. Something more to think about.

  9. This story was so vivid and so then, I felt God’s spirit writing its wisdom on my heart as I placed my own reality in the story. Thank you to the author who helped me understand more about this passage and that God is trustworthy and if we let him lead us, that the burden will be light.

  10. Loretta, you have a beautiful way of telling a story from an unexpected observer. Then you make me think of the depth of Christ’s love for me. Thank you for this insight.

  11. This is another golden nugget from Loretta. It is a tremendous incarnational story to help lift up spiritually sagging shoulders! In this chaotic times we all need to hear the encouraging word that this message brings: Trust in God. He is in charge of our lives.

    Thank you Loretta.

    • You mention sagging shoulders. It makes me think of the many people who experience neck and shoulder pain due to stress. I am not immune!

    • I wonder what it would be like to be in that carpenter shop. I really can imagine the aroma of wood shavings and the sounds of the plane.

  12. Until reading your monthly posts, I had never really imagined myself deeply within a biblical story. Sure, I thought of what it might be like but never first hand or emotionally connected as if it were the present moment. Thank you for bringing new life to the intimate stories of Jesus the Christ.

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