Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
IS 49:14-15; PS 62:2-3, 6-9; 1COR 4:1-5; MT 6:24-34
When I first came across Jesus' poetic words today about God's care for creation and having trust in God's providence, it hardly seem very realistic. Like the lyrics of a song that won a Grammy award in 1989, Bobby McFerron's, "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Its reggae beat and constant refrain were hard to stop humming, but the message struck me as superficial and trite. I remember thinking to myself after hearing the song for the umpteenth time, "Don't tell me how to feel! I have a right to be worried about many things!" While I might "have it good" compared to others, what about those in the world crushed by grinding poverty and oppressed by injustice? They, too, have a right to worry about what is coming tomorrow!"
As usual, though, reading the Gospel outside of its context will often result in misunderstanding. The key to this passage is not simply in the suggestion "not to worry." Rather, this advice is given with a further imperative, "Don't be anxious - rather seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you besides." Jesus is saying that it is a question of focus...where to expend our energy and place our attention. If our focus is on right relationships our lives will not be fixated on a quest to acquire more "things" to shore up our defenses, to be secure and happy in our own little world. We're invited to let go of all of those secondary concerns and concentrate first on what is around us...the people and events that really need our attention. Then, all these secondary things will fall into place. I can't help but remember the advice given to graduating college students by the late Sargent Shriver, the founder of the Peace Corps. He advised them to go home and break the mirrors in their bathrooms. Instead of looking at themselves, he said, it would do them more good to look at others. True happiness in life, he contended is found when we act out of the conviction that it's not all about me.
A further key to understanding this passage is seeing it as an illustration of Jesus' admonition "You cannot serve both God and mammon." What is "mammon?" It is a transliteration of the Aramaic word "mamonas" that in general means "wealth" or "possessions." In the New Testament, though, it usually has the further connotation of wealth that has been unjustly obtained and which has been made into an idol - as an ultimate value and source of security in one's life that displaces God. In a real sense the term conjures up contemporary images of people obsessed with financial gain, such as Gordon Gekko's famous speech in the movie "Wall Street" where he declared, "Greed is good." Once we believe that our ultimate security and happiness is dependent on what we have, rather than on God, our lives are built on a very shaky foundation indeed.
Jesus reveals God to be a gracious provider in today's Gospel. This image in complimented further by Isaiah's powerful feminine illustration of God's concern for us in our first reading. "Can a mother ever forget the child of her womb?" The bands of love tying us to God are even stronger than those of a mother's love. So despite all of our current challenges, all of the anxieties in this life, all of our heartbreaking disappointments in human relationships, our shattered dreams for our future, the precariousness of our finances, we are urged by Jesus to place our ultimate trust and confidence in God - for only in God can we find true happiness.
Mark R. Francis, CSV
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