Oxen Ploughing a Field
Painted by George Arthur Hays (American, 1854-1945),
Oil on canvas
Executed in 1900
© Avery & Dash Collections, all rights reserved
Shoulder my yoke and learn from me
Matthew 11: 28-30
Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’
Reflection on the Painting
In this very short reading today, Jesus uses the imagery of a yoke. Most of His listeners at the time were probably involved in farming or fishing, so the image of a yoke must have appealed to them; probably less so today, in our age of industrialised agriculture. Nevertheless, it is easy enough to work with this image that Jesus gave us. A yoke keeps two oxen together as they plow the fields, to prepare for a new season of crop planting. The two oxen have to work together. The stronger ox leads the weaker ox, working their way through the fields and life, ploughing one row at a time, towards completing their task. Us humans, are the weaker ox, needing strength, guidance and encouragement by Christ.
Today’s painting shows farmers ploughing their field, probably early morning seen the soft light which is present. The left half of the painting shows the field already ploughed, the past; the right side has yet to be ploughed, the future. All the oxen and the farmers need to work together, in perfect harmony and synchronicity to work the fields and for the crop to be planted for future harvesting. The artist, George Arthur Hays, was known for his agricultural paintings of cows, sheep and oxen which captivated a way of life which was rapidly disappearing at the time he painted them in 1900.
A yoke is designed for two animals. This farming instrument brings the strength of two animals together in order to pull a load that is impossible for one animal to pull on its own. When Jesus uses the word ‘overburdened’ in today’s Gospel, he refers that if we want to pull this load on our own, we are overburdened. We simply can’t do it on our own. We have to work together with Christ to accomplish our task, with Him providing leadership and direction… only then can we have an abundant harvest…
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