Feb 25, 2011

8th Sunday: "Do not worry about your life . . ."

"Look at the birds in the sky . . ." 

Year A

Isaiah 49: 14-15
I Cor 4: 1-5
Mt 6: 24-34

I remember a favorite expression of my Mother when we were young children: “Don’t be such a worry wart!,” she would say. Most children don’t usually worry about much things of any real significance: a lost toy, the dark, monsters in the closet, the dog's next meal. Yet, to a child even the smallest matters seem like major challenges.

I tended to fret about my grade school homework and about whether I would pass or fail a test. Though I was not obsessive about it, at least I don’t remember being so, I could not hide my occasional frustration. My Mother felt I was a bit of a “worry wart” but her calm demeanor did help.

This Sunday’s first reading from Isaiah reminds me of that moment: Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? (Is 49: 14-15). Such maternal imagery relates to the nation of Israel and God’s faithfulness for a people in exile who long for their homeland. YHWH will not forget his people. It is definitely a feel good passage from the Old Testament. God made good on his promise.

Jesus’ beautiful springtime imagery from today’s Gospel may bring us similar comfort. This continuation of his famed sermon on the mount as we have heard the last few weeks is a more sedate message. No harshness about love your enemies or firey Gehenna or tear out your eye . . . cut off your hand . . . your foot if they cause you to sin. Such imagery has stirred us the last few Sunday’s.

But this week, it’s a gentle springtime illustration. I assume Our Lord spoke these words as signs of new life were budding forth around the Sea of Galilee. Today we hear: Do not worry about your life . . . (Mt 6: 25). We envision: . . . the birds in the sky . . . the wild flowers . . . the grass of the field . . . (Mt 6: 26, 28, 30).

Like a counselor who creates a mood of calm by asking the client to visualize such images, Jesus delivers these nature rich scenes to teach us something fundamental about our relationship to God – that we are his children who should not be such “worry warts.” He is like a loving parent who sees us as, . . . more important than they (birds, flowers, grass) so . . . why are you anxious . . .  (Mt. 6: 21, 28). If God cares for these lesser things why would he not care all the more for the greater – human beings? Well, it’s good advice if all we have to worry about is our next math assignment or the simple things of childhood. In essence Jesus reminds his disciples to not be overly concerned or obsessive about material things; about the stuff that we need (or want) in this life, even our “daily bread.”

But, what if you’re facing cancer, the loss of a job, homelessness, your next meal, a broken marriage, the sudden loss of a loved one, critical surgery, or other such heavy concerns? Jesus reminds us: . . . will he (the Father) not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? (Mt. 6: 30). So, total trust in Divine providence and the strength of our faith seem, according to Jesus, to have something in common. There is a link which holds belief and trust together before a God who knows what we need before we even ask him. If we set our priorities in a balance between the things of heaven and the stuff of earth, then we can release ourselves from the stranglehold of our possessions.

Here’s a test. Turn off your cell-phone and let your voice mail feature take your calls. How do you feel?  Anxious? Stressed out? Unsettled? Can you stand to place your phone on the table, out of your hands or off your ear, and feel at peace about it? What about taking a walk for 30 minutes without the use of technology: no phone, no texting, and no music in your ears. What possesses you?

Though the images may be gentle in this Sunday’s Gospel, they confront us with a mighty challenge. Jesus states: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides . . . (Mt 6: 34). How can we really place the pursuit of God’s Kingdom above the responsibilities of this life: family, marriage, priestly service, my good health and safety?

When times are tough, where do I go? With whom do I share my anxiety? Do I turn to prayer, to trust, to surrender? Do I really believe that God has my best interests at heart?

It may do us well to pray about such questions. In every Mass we priests pray before Holy Communion (new English translation):

“Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil . . . that we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you,
all things pass away:
God never changes. – St. Teresa of Avila