Muzzling the Ox
Mandates are hard to manage, in that they very often rest on our shoulders like a yoke rests on the neck of an ox. Good mandates are like a good yoke, they are fitted and appropriate to us and bring a focus and direction to our work, much like a yoke fitted to an ox allows it to do its work well (be it plowing, threshing or hauling). Mandates that are not so good for us? Ones that are not tailored to our talents, or that create undue pressures on ourselves and/or our communities, fostering tension and conflict where none need exist. Our responsibility as members of the Body of Christ? To work as much on the tailoring of the yoke, the task, to alignment with God's will for us as to work to make that labor a success regardless of cost. On top of that, according to Paul's submission to Moses' direction, we are to recognize that the laborer (our own selves or anyone else), should not be prohibited from partaking of the labor. To not muzzle an ox on the threshing floor means that you recognize, and allow, that the ox needs/wants to eat as much as you do and in that need /want is to be allowed to dip down into the grain being threshed at will for sustenance. Everyone whose hand is committed to the good work of the kingdom is to be encouraged, and correction is to be expected...but while a yoke may be necessary for us to maintain focus, a muzzle is not to be considered a good thing, at all.
The people of Judah have a double yoke to bear: they are to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem because of mandates from both God and the king of Babylon. Their Samaritan neighbors are not comfortable with that concept, and petition the king in two instances with attempts to derail the reconstruction of the Temple and the rebuilding of the city wall. Though the solution to the issue is eventually found via a bureaucratic process, I find it moving that we are seeing God at work in the continuing endorsement of reconstruction. Go figure, God is at work, even in the midst of bureaucracy!
The Psalmist directs us to remember that our primary yoke in life is to acknowledge and praise God, and focus on the fact that who and what we are derives directly and completely from our relationship with the divine. All actions on our part, and reactions to the events of our lives, are to be directed toward the calling we share to follow where God would lead us. Sound like a yoke to you? Perhaps the only one most of us would be willing to accept...a yoke to follow God, to follow Christ.
Still, even Paul bridles and pulls against the yoke from time to time. His current beef with the people in Corinth continues to be their apparent intention to discard the yoke of discipline that we share in receiving the mantle of new life through the resurrection of the Christ. He decries two aspects of "shrugging off" that authority: the first being the church discarding the teachings of the Gospel and the second its disdain for the role of the apostle to offer direction (and correction) to the Church. Paul's harangue, as confusing as it is, speaks to me of our common call to see ourselves commonly yoked to the purpose of the proclamation of the Gospel. That means (as it would for a yoked pair of oxen), being willing to pull together and to work together so that good work can be done without conflict wasting our strength. As well, he teaches us that a yoke is not a muzzle! We are to labor, and focus that labor for the good of the kingdom...and we are to share in the benefit of it, together, along the way. No one is to be subject to abuse, and no abuse is to be tolerated.
It is a high calling, to be sure...to be honored with a yoke like that, one fitted to us as the Church-if you will-from day one of our being admitted into fellowship with Christ...."For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:30