March 3: Break Every Yoke

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke? 

Isaiah 58:6

Here we confront again the theme verse of our Lenten practice. The fast that God chooses for us has something to do with breaking yokes and loosening bonds.

What does this mean?

The prophet uses an ancient image in this plea for justice — the yoke refers to the piece of wood which laid across the necks of either one or two oxen for the purpose of pulling a plow. This wood was held in place by a chain or thong, made of leather, tied under the beasts’ necks. 

Isaiah has painted a vivid metaphor; the oppressed are pictured as being yoked under a heavy burden, from which they are unable to escape. They have been compelled to work on somebody else’s behalf, for someone else’s profit. The yoke can represent anything from forced labor to unfair labor practices to racism in the workplace.

Or the yoke can represent the systemic patterns of discrimination which burden certain members of our community. For example, the Civil Rights Voting Act of 1964, which removed local and state barriers to African-American voting, is in the process of being slowly rolled-back across the country. Many states, including Texas, have attempted to restrict the right to vote, through such measures as voter ID laws, cuts to early voting, and purges of voter rolls. These measure make it harder for black people, the elderly, students, and people with disabilities to exercise their constitutional right. In other words, these measures are a heavy yoke.

What other yokes do you see in society? Where do you see people bent over underneath economic, social, and legal burdens? When have you seen the yoke of oppression hanging over a community or neighborhood?

God’s answer to the plight of the yoked is to “undo the thongs of the yoke.” But who is supposed to do the “undoing”? 

The farmer has a vested interest in the yoke remaining fastened and in place. 

The ox lacks the opposable thumbs to undo the thong. 

Sometimes, God wants us to step in and set them free! Often, our divine call is to intervene in the oppression of others, to be an advocate, to reach into a knotty situation and undo the thong.

PRAYER: God, open our eyes to see the yokes on our neighbors. Make us sensitive to the burdens which people bear. Orient our work so that we might also “loosen the bonds of injustice.” Amen. 

JUSTICE CHALLENGE: Learn about the Voting Rights Advancement Act, introduced in both chambers of Congress in June 2015, with bipartisan support. The Act has yet to reach the floor in either chamber. Express your support of the Act by calling your elected officials.