Matthew 6:24-34, Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In just a few days time, we will enter the season of Lent. I’m sure that some of you, if not many, have given thought to what it is you will fast from this Lent. Perhaps some of you will give up some kind of food, kick a bad habit or do some other kind of penance. When I was growing up, my parents would encourage us to do something like that. I remember a year when we decided to give up meat altogether for forty days. My parents could also be quite severe: objecting to any kind of music being played on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, which I thought was the most cruel kind of penance.
While I think Catholic education is good in instilling this idea of fasting from something, we are not very good in emphasising that we are also fasting for something. We fast from something in order that we might learn to appreciate life as gift from God and perhaps by denying ourselves of what we need to live we might learn to desire what matters: i.e. a life lived in deep recognition of God’s love for us.
Reading our Gospel, I wonder if Jesus is suggesting something that might be good for all of us to fast from this Lent. Fast from worry! Give up being anxious about so many things for forty days. We are so prone to worry are we not? We worry if we will succeed in our ventures, in work or at school. We worry if we will be liked by our friends, our partners. We worry about the wellbeing of people whom we love. Some of us even worry about worrying too much!
If this is going to be our Lenten program, we need to learn how to stop worrying. The first step that Jesus suggests to us is to understand the futility of worrying. Jesus invites us to consider what we see in nature. Birds, flowers, do not toil or spin, yet God provides for all. Nature is cared for by God. Jesus says: Are you not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single cubit to his span of life? Since worrying cannot help us acquire that which we need, why not give it up. Why not learn to live a little more carefree, a little more confident that God indeed can and will provide for more than we can hope for.
This then is what we need to learn, for unlike birds and flowers who cannot worry (I think!), we need to learn to trust, which is the second step in learning to stop worrying. Trust is that movement that runs counter to that of worry. We have heard Jesus say that we are worth far more than birds and the flowers in the field. Indeed we are. Why worry about if we will succeed or not if we trust that God is indeed the master of our lives, that God helps us through good and bad, directing us towards happiness in God alone? Why worry if we will be liked or if we are good enough if we trust that God loves us deeply and gazes on us as as one whom God considers to be beautiful and good?
Our first reading uses language designed to shock us that we might learn to understand this most important reality. In response to the complaint, the worry of the people of Zion, who have learnt to believe that God has forgotten them God says:
Does a woman forget her baby at the breast,
or fail to cherish the son of her womb?
Yet even if these forget,
I will never forget you.
Even if that shocking and impossible thing happens, when a mother forgets her own child, God will never forget. On the palms of God’s own hands are engraved our own names. We are—our needs, our wants, our desires—continually before God. Only if we learn to trust in the goodness of God can we learn to stop worrying.
As our second reading indicates, we will not stop worrying if we only look to our own selves. St Paul says to the church at Corinth: People must think of us as Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God. This then is third step, we must learn to serve others. There are many in our world who are justifiably worried about food and clothing—millions of refugees, hundreds of thousands of people in starvation. What would it mean if we stopped worrying about our food and clothing while others die from malnutrition and neglect. We are to stop worrying, but never to stop caring.
My dear friends, what are you worried about right now? Is there a nagging doubt, a worry that is eating you up inside? Let’s take a few moments to speak to God about whatever it is that gives us worry and to ask for the grace that we might learn to trust and to serve.