The Sermon on the Mount is full of bracing challenges for those who seek the kingdom of God. Today’s Gospel gives us perhaps the most difficult challenge of all. Why?
Gospel (Read Mt 6:24-34)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives His followers extended instruction about how life in the kingdom of God is to be lived. It is a life of radical love of God and neighbor. Today, He makes clear that this life is not simply a new code of ethics. In fact, He goes right to the heart of its distinguishing characteristic: “Do not worry about your life.”
Don’t worry about our lives? Is there anything more natural and immediate to us than figuring out what we will eat or drink or wear? These concerns seem essential to human life. What does Jesus mean? He starts this instruction with a direct statement of the ultimate goal of all that follows: “No one can serve two masters … You cannot serve God and mammon.” “Mammon” is an Aramaic word meaing “wealth” or “property.” All of Jesus’ instruction about worry is rooted in His desire for His followers to be free from slavery to money. Excessive anxiety about the necessities of life leads to excessive worship of money. It enslaves us. How can we avoid this bondage?
Jesus begins by asking us a question: “Is life not more than food and the body more than clothing?” If we answer “yes” to this, we are already on the path that leads to freedom. How? When we acknowledge that ultimately life’s purpose and value go beyond what we can see and experience, we have cast out lot with the invisible rather than the visible. This willingness to trust what we can’t see more than what we can is the very essence of faith: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Faith in God believes that He is the loving, sustaining power behind the visible universe. Yet, the faith to which Jesus calls us includes more than that, as His next words make clear.
“Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they?” Jesus wants us to understand that God’s power is personal. Nature shows us God’s tender care for birds. Do we think He cares less for us, creatures made in His image and likeness? Jesus goes even beyond the logic of nature to prove His point: “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span?” Not only is anxiety about our basic needs foolish, it is also fruitless. It doesn’t work! No amount of worrying can guarantee us a “single moment” extra in life.
After giving another wonderful example from nature about how God cares for His living creation, Jesus directly exhorts us: “So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’” Why not? “All these the pagans seek.” In other words, people who have no knowledge or confidence in a loving God outside of the visible world and who do not serve Him become slaves to the material world they can see and worship. It turns out that materialism is nothing new. Even in Eden, the serpent deceived our first parents into believing only what they could see—the attractive forbidden fruit—and forgetting what they couldn’t—the invisible God. No, materialism is anything but new.
So, are we to ignore the basic needs of life? Not at all. Jesus gives us rock-solid assurance that our heavenly Father knows that we need them all. He simply wants us to have our priorities right: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” He wants us to check ourselves to see where our allegiance lies. Do we belong to God and serve Him, or do we belong to money and serve it? Can we trust our Father to care for us in the way He cares for the birds and flowers? Are we willing to be prudent about life’s basic needs but not anxious? Can we trust Jesus when He says, “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself”?
We can if we choose to live by faith—and thus to live free.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, worrying comes so automatically to me. Forgive me for my little faith.
First Reading (Read Is 49:14-15)
God spoke a word of comfort to His people through the prophet, Isaiah, when they were going through terrible times. They were tempted to think God had forgotten them. Isn’t this the same fear that can choke us lifeless when we face great difficulties, too? Just as Jesus used nature to illustrate God’s loving care, here God uses the intimate bond between mother and child to remind His people not to worry: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
No wonder Jesus told His followers in the Gospel: seek God’s kingdom and don’t worry.
Possible response: Heavenly Father, You have promised never to forget me. Why do I so easily forget You?
Psalm (Read Ps 62:2-3, 6-9)
If, because of our other readings, we are finding ourselves convicted of useless worry about life’s basic needs, this psalm today can be a wonderful corrective for us: “Only in God be at rest, my soul, for from Him comes my hope.” Our hope in life doesn’t come from money; when we mistakenly put our hope in it, we will never have peace. If we want true peace, we will have to trust our Father: “He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed at all.”
Today might find us urgently needing to sing our antiphon with serious intention: “Rest in God alone, my soul.”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read 1 Cor 4:1-5)
Here, St. Paul writes to the Corinthian church about how he remained in peace even when he was criticized and falsely judged, as was happening in Corinth among his detractors. Although these verses aren’t about being free from love of money, they are about trusting the unseen God more than the seen realities of life: “It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal … the One who judges me is the Lord.” We can see the principle of faith at work in St. Paul’s life. He knew he served the only Master who matters, and this confidence gave him peace when the storms of life pressed in on him. St. Paul had every expectation that someday all will be revealed, and when it is, all who lived by faith in God’s goodness and justice, even when it was hard to see in this life, “will receive praise from God.” A reward worth the wait!
Possible response: St. Paul, pray for me to put all my confidence in the goodness and justice of God. I want, someday, to receive His praise.