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By Breaking a Wooden Yoke, You Forge an Iron Yoke


Monday of last week (18th Week of the year) there was a powerful passage from the Book of Jeremiah. 

crucifixunsplach2It is practical, profound, and sweeping in its implications, and it comes to us from the Lord through the mouth of Jeremiah the Prophet:

By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke! (Jeremiah 28:13)

Rather than looking at the historical meaning (i.e., that God was going to use Assyria to humble Israel), let’s consider what it means for us today.

What is the wooden yoke if it is not the cross? Indeed, the Lord says as much: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matt 11:28-30).

The Lord has a paradoxical answer for us who labor and are heavenly burdened. He tells us to take the yoke and burden that He has for us.  The yoke is a symbol for the cross, and like most yokes, it connects us with another — the Lord! To be sure, God does have a yoke for us.  We do need purification and discipline.  However, the yoke He has for us is “easy."  The Greek word used is χρηστός (chrestos), which also has the connotation of being well-fitting, serviceable, or adapted to its purpose.  The Lord’s yoke for us is productive unto the end He has in mind: our healing and salvation.

Do not turn the yoke (cross) into something abstract or think of it only in terms of major things such as cancer.  The cross also has real, practical, daily dimensions such as exercising self-control and moderation.  The cross (yoke) includes resisting sin, forgiving, and living chastely and courageously despite difficulties or persecution.  These crosses are common to all true Christians.  There are also some specific crosses that each of us carries, ones that the Lord permits for our humility and purification.  Perhaps it is a physical illness or infirmity; maybe it is a spiritual emotional struggle; perhaps it is the loss of a loved one, job, or home.

These things are the wooden yoke, the cross of the Lord, and He carries it with us for we are yoked with Him (praise God).  Because these burdens are from Him, they are well-suited to us; they are just what we need to avoid even worse things, including Hell itself.

What if we break and cast aside the wooden yoke, as many do today by ridiculing the Christian moral vision and the wisdom of the cross given to us by Jesus?

By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke! (Jeremiah 28:13)

How is this? Consider the toll that indulging in the moment can take: 

  • In rejecting the wooden yoke of moderation, chastity, and the limits of God’s moral law, we forge the iron yoke of addiction, obesity, financial trouble, sexually transmitted diseases, broken families, and all the heartache that follows.  Pornography, lust, alcohol, and drugs enslave with an iron yoke.

  • In refusing the grace to forgive, we fuel violence and conflict.  Many wars in the world today are fought over grievances that stretch back hundreds or even thousands of years.

  • Our greed fuels an insatiable desire for more, and we begin to live beyond our means or to live in such a way that bring us more stress than happiness.

  • Even the simple neglect of our daily duties causes work to pile up and seem overwhelming

  • Our culture has become ever more severe as we abandon the wooden yoke of common moral standards and simple human decency.  What we end up with is a culture that is more unforgiving and severe than ever.  General moral standards give way to selective moral outrage resulting in: cancel culture, growing lists of grievances, and an easily offended victim-culture,  a bewildering list of words  are now forbidden and an outright criminalizing of views contrary to the sexual revolution.  It is an iron yoke.

All of these iron yokes, and more come upon us because we break the wooden yoke of the cross. To be sure, fulfilling our daily duties, living moderately, chastely, and soberly are all crosses because they involve some degree of self-denial, at least in the moment.  However, the wooden yoke is a lot easier than the iron yoke that results if we cast aside the more manageable, and well-fitting yoke of the cross.

Pay attention, fellow Christian, Satan is a liar. He offers to lift the gentle yoke of the Lord.  He expresses “outrage” that the Lord should require any suffering or discipline from us.  He “takes our side” and utters a complaint on our behalf, but he is a liar and a fraud.  Once we let him lift the wooden yoke he locks us in an iron yoke.  Do not forsake the wooden yoke of the cross, for if you do, an iron yoke is sure to follow.

It is a simple pearl of wisdom, yet it is so often ignored: By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke! (Jeremiah 28:13)



Msgr. Charles Pope. "By Breaking a Wooden Yoke, You Forge an Iron Yoke!" Community in Mission (August 10, 2021).

This article is reprinted with permission from Msgr. Charles Pope. Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash.

The Author

cpopeMonsignor Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, a vibrant parish community in Washington, DC. A native of Chicago with a bachelor degree in computer science, his interest in the priesthood stemmed from his experience as a church musician.  He attended Mount Saint Mary's Seminary and was ordained in 1989.  A pastor since 2000, he also has led Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and at the White House in past years.

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