14th Sunday in Ordinary Time A – 9 July 2017 – Lighten Everyone’s Load
Earlier this week I visited the Shaker Museum in New Lebanon to see a very small exhibit called “Break Every Yoke: Shakers, Gender Equality and Women’s Suffrage.” Given the gospel for today I was intrigued by what the Shakers meant by sharing the yoke. The members (two remain) hold that God is both male and female. They have always been cognizant of the impact that that belief has on the roles women played in spiritual and secular societies.
I read part of an 1865 speech called “The Renovated Woman” by Antoinette Doolittle. She called for women to release themselves from the yoke around their necks. Here is what she wrote about women seventeen years after the First Woman’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, NY.
“Now we hear a trumpet voice sounding loud and clear calling her to come forth from the tomb wherein her best powers and capabilities have been buried and lain dormant for so long.” 
The gospel we just heard celebrates a knowledge of God that comes to us from Jesus Christ himself. This intelligence is rooted in Jesus’ understanding of his relationship with God. We can share in that relationship by responding to his comforting invitation, “come to me, the yoke is easy, the burden is light.” What makes subjugation, bondage, light for women and men today? Who can ease our worries and troubles?
Jesus’ words echo the passage from Sirach 51:26 “take her yoke upon your neck; that your mind may receive her teaching. For she is close to those who seek her, and the one who is in earnest finds her.” Scholars tell us Jesus is the incarnate voice of the wisdom of God. In this Old Testament passage wisdom is depicted with female pronouns.
We are thankful for whatever blessings we have in our lives. We also realize there are things that can weigh us down. Working our way through life we grow in our appreciation of the liberties we have in this nation, the support of close friends, our family members and the sustenance found in our faith based communities. Each of these relationships helps us overcome our fears by lightening our yokes and easing our burdens.
The word “yoke” can mean different things. It can be a heavy device placed on the neck of a defeated person. It can be a wooden frame placed over the shoulders of strong animals working together in the fields. A yoke can be a bad thing or, it can be a good thing.
These scriptures help me realize how women and men, working together, pick us up, nourish us, encourage us. But, what will it take to free each other from all forms of oppression? How do we help release the gifts and talents we possess?
The poet and activist, Audre Lorde wrote directly to women, about the passion women feel in their bodies. In her words, “As we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like our only alternative in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within.” 
As I read her essay I have a better appreciation for whatever cohorts of faith do to free people up so they can realize their full potential as children of God. We often speak about those who are hungry (like the 10,000 individuals served by our pantry so far this year), homeless people, or those oppressed because of race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation.
Today’s biblical texts speak to us, using the comforting words of God’s wisdom, to help us see where there are yokes around our necks. When we share each other’s burdens we can ease our pain if not entirely set us free.
Jesus called us to live in a kingdom where there is peace, where the yoke is easy and the burden is diminished. This is our vocation as Christians — to lighten the load for everyone.
1. Antoinette Doolittle, “Renovated Woman” in Shakers and Shakeress, No 5. January 1875.
2. Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. (Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1984) 58