From Be Thou My Breastplate, by Paul Wallis
May the yoke of the Law of God be upon this shoulder. (Fursa’s Breastplate)
The yoke’s technology is simple yet profound. The rigid strength of a two-oxen yoke ensures that the power of both animals is harnessed for, if one beast outpaces the other, the faster ox soon realizes that it is bearing the burden of the whole load. The ox-master would quickly sense it too because his machine would lose power. Not only would the farmer find he was plowing with the power of a single ox but that animal’s power would itself be diminished by the added burden of having to drag, along with the plow, the dawdling second beast. This would be painful for the leading ox and a loss to the ox-master. But this inequality of labor would be painful too to the slower ox, for its shoulder would be chafed and bruised by the heaving of the heavy yoke continually yanking its shoulders forwards. That is why Saint Paul warns us not to be “unequally yoked” ourselves. With a little human tuition, the simple bovine brains learned that if they walked the same way and worked at equal speed the labor would seem only half as heavy – not burdensome but easy and light.
Likewise, when Jesus calls to women and men, saying, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. . . my yoke is easy and my burden light,” he is calling us to walk his way and to walk at his pace. If we heed his call, choosing his way and pace, then the furrow we plow will be a journey heavenwards and the burden shared with our mighty savior. The connection Jesus calls for is also a strong and a rigid one. Fursa’s prayer reminds us that our link with Christ is through the “Law of God” – the gift of Christ’s teaching and commands. “No-one who sets his shoulder to the plow and looks back is worthy of me,” said the son of Mary.
Fursa does not ask for some vague, elastic kind of relationship, but for something strong and binding. This is a relationship intended not to add demands to the burdens of life, but rather to define the direction, lessen the burden, and increase the fruit.
Fursa lived his life in the truth of these words. His building, farming, preaching, recruiting, pastoring, and traveling from Ireland to England and from England to France left in its wake stable and strong missionary communities. To establish such order requires the expenditure of great effort and energy. And yet his story does not read like a litany of arduous labors and toil. As recorded by Bede and others, Fursa was one who seemed to lead his life at walking pace, unhurried yet effective and always in close tandem with the giver of all purpose and fruit – his heavenly yoke-mate, paraclete, and master.
If you ever feel weary and fruitless in your “toilsome labor under the sun,” whatever it is your work may be; if you long for that sense of finding your groove and taking all life in your stride, then simply pray and ask for what Fursa sought from Christ. With the words of his prayer, call out for the divine technology of the yoke of the law of God, inviting it now to rest upon your own shoulder.