What are your priorities? – Francis Alvarez, SJ

Matthew 6:24-34, Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them… Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them” (Matthew 6:26, 28-29).

Does this mean then that we can just stop working, sit around scratching our bellies, and simply trust that God will make sure we are fed and clothed? But in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-11, St. Paul warns against laziness: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.” How should we understand our Gospel today?

The key, I think, is in the verse that comes right before the lines quoted above: “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Jesus here is talking about not just physical nourishment and protection from the elements but about every human need: recreation, knowledge, emotional support, a sense of fulfillment – our list goes on and sometimes seems unending. Jesus is telling us that life is not just about our needs, and life is more than just about our wants, our desires, and our plans. What can be more important than our plans for ourselves? God’s plans for the world.

Jesus, in our Gospel today, sums it up in one line: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 26:33). The “first” is significant; Jesus, in our Gospel today, is striving to challenge our priorities.

What are your priorities?

When looking for a college to apply to, what questions do you ask? What courses does this institution offer? How much is the tuition fee? How far away is it from home? Are any of my friends going there? Do you ask, “Will this college help me see the kingdom of God better?”

When job hunting, what questions do you ask? How much is the salary? What are the benefits? How is the commute? Will it challenge me and help me improve my skills? Do you ask, “Will working here lead me to the kingdom of God?”

When searching for a spouse, what questions do you ask? Does he or she share my interests? Does he or she make my heart flutter? Can we be financially stable together? Can I imagine raising children with him or her? Do you ask, “Will marrying this person help build the kingdom of God?”

When waking up in the morning – because this question is not just for the milestones and turning points of life but also for the everyday journey – do you ask, “Where will I find the kingdom of God today?” Ask about where the kingdom of God can be found the next time you make a new investment in a smartphone, the next time you decide where to go for a vacation, the next time the issue of convenience weighs on where and what time you go for Mass. Then try to see what difference that question makes.

Jesus, in our Gospel today, also tells us not to worry. Putting the kingdom of God first should take away our anxiety. When we pursue our own plans, there are a million and one things that can go awry. As Murphy’s Law states, and as mathematicians, physicists, and statisticians have demonstrated, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” But if we pursue God’s plans, though we may falter and fail, we are assured that God’s kingdom will be fulfilled. Better than Murphy’s Law are God’s words as proclaimed in Isaiah 55:10-11: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

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