Matthew 6:24-34, Eight Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s readings are so rich that we could reflect on nearly every sentence. Especially the gospel offers so many thoughts to spend a long time with them. What the three readings have in common is that they remind us that God has not only created us, but that he wants to help us to grow and to thrive in a way that he has envisioned for us. This concern and care of God for his creation, big and small, is called divine Providence, and we, as creatures gifted with freedom and responsibility, can not only benefit from God’s Providence, but also help him usher creation toward the perfection that he desires for all his creatures, big and small.
In today’s very short First Reading we are reminded that God’s care and concern for us goes beyond the care and concern of the creature who represents one of the greatest blessings of Providence in our lives: our mothers.
“Can a mother forget her chid…?” the prophet Isaiah asks. Yet God’s love and concern goes beyond even the maternal: he enabled us to exist and sustains us in our existence. He created us, and our parents wouldn’t have been able to bring us unto the world without him. He wants our happiness as much as our parents and, as Isaiah reminds us, even if our parents were to forget us, God will never forget.
In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that our belief in Providence and our efforts to help it along will be judged by God.
Paul describes himself as a servant of Christ and a steward of God’s mysteries. A servant is not an owner, a steward is entrusted with the care of something and trust is essential in a steward. God wants us to cooperate in his plan of Divine Providence: The CCC says, “God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ cooperation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of cooperating in the accomplishment of his plan”( 306).
In today’s Gospel Jesus directs our attention to the signs of God’s Providence in the present in order to not worry about the future. Thinking about the future can be a source of anxiety and uncertainty if we lose sight of the signs around us every day of how God has created all things to be good and arranges them to help them achieve good ends and often in a beautiful way. He knows what we need before we even ask.
Of course, all of us would to be free from worry and anxiety. But Christ’s words in today’s Gospel passage seem too good to be true. He tells us to stop worrying about the things we all worry about – material, worldly things, what he calls “mammon.” “Mammon” comes from a Greek word meaning material goods and possessions – things that money can buy. So Jesus is telling us that we shouldn’t worry about bank accounts, mortgages, work, career, reputation, achievements, success.
He is warning us that those things cannot satisfy our hearts, and that if we care too much about them, they will separate us from God and from the peace of mind that comes only from a strong friendship with Christ.
Then he tells us how to stop worrying about those things. “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness,” Jesus says, “and all these other things will be given you as well.” The Greek word translated “seek” (zeteo) is a rich verb. It means to want eagerly, to look for actively, to strive for, to set one’s heart on.
All of us here already believe since our childhood in Jesus Christ. But today Jesus is asking us how deeply we believe. How actively are we seeking to know, love and follow Jesus Christ? How firmly is our heart set on his Kingdom? How eagerly and energetically are we striving to achieve righteousness, which is success in God’s eyes, as opposed to success in the world’s eyes? When our hearts are divided, when we try to find happiness both in our friendship with Christ and in our worldly successes, we end up losing both – we cannot serve two masters.
But if we seek first his Kingdom, then “all these other things will be given us as well.” This is why poor people can be at peace and rich people can be tormented.
The highest rates of suicide, in fact, are always found among the wealthy. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus said, because those are the ones who have realized that the goods of this earth – whether wealth, honors, or achievements – are not big enough to satisfy the human heart. If they were, then the richer someone becomes, the happier they would be. But we all know that this isn’t the case. Rather, the ones who are wise, peaceful and strong are the ones who have their sights set on Jesus Christ.
Often times, Christians are depicted as angry killjoys who live serious, dark, and somber lives. But the truth is that the saints are the most cheerful and creative people in history, because it’s sin, not faith, that steals the joy from life.
The holy abbot St Columban once asked the young monk St Deicolus [day-ICK-oh-loose], “Why are you always smiling?” Deicolus answered, “Because no one can take God from me.”
It’s said that when young St Dominic Savio decided to become a saint, he began by no longer playing games with the other boys and by wearing a solemn expression. St John Bosco asked him what was wrong. The youth explained, and St John praised his intention, but advised him to remain cheerful and active, for serving God is supposed to make us joyful and spiritually attractive to others. St John used to tell everyone, “Enjoy yourself as much as you like, if only you keep from sin.”
If we seek his Kingdom first, all these other things will be given us as well. That’s Jesus’ promise. But what does it mean to “seek his Kingdom first”? At the very least, it means three things.
First, it means obeying God’s commandments, which we find in the Bible and Church teaching, and which we apply to our own lives through the voice of conscience.
In the Our Father, we pray, “Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done…” Christ is a King, a ruler. And so those who dwell in and benefit from his Kingdom should obey his laws.
Second, seeking Christ’s Kingdom means constantly striving to get know Jesus Christ better and better through prayer and Christian meditation. Jesus is a unique King, because he longs for his subjects’ friendship. He wants to be part of our lives, to walk with us. As Pope Benedict recently told the youth in New York, “What matters most is that you develop your personal relationship with God. That relationship is expressed in prayer.”
Third, we need to constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to help bring others closer to Christ. This isn’t as hard as we may think. All we have to do is remember that God is the real source of happiness. With a too serious face we will not bring anybody closer to Christ.
Today Jesus will renew his commitment to us during the sacrifice of this Mass. When we receive him in Holy Communion, let’s renew our commitment to him, and promise to make a special effort this week to seek his Kingdom first, especially since three days from now we have Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten Season.