Matthew 6:24-34, Saturday of Week 11 in Ordinary Time
In our first reading, God, our Father and Mother, assures us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Let’s provide a little context for these very consoling words. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is addressing a situation in which his ministry was being attacked and undermined by self-proclaimed apostles who were going around, telling people that they shouldn’t listen to Paul because he was not a real apostle. After all, Paul wasn’t one of the twelve who went around with Jesus. He was not very impressive, always getting into trouble, being chased out of towns. Who did he think he was? People should be listening to these super-apostles instead!
Imagine preachers who make themselves, their big egos, the point of their homilies! Or so-called benefactors of the needy who make their donations about how generous they are instead of the needs of the poor. Imagine too people in government who make public service about earning points for the next election, rather than genuinely serving their constituents!
Paul’s neighborhood was the brood of vipers like these! And so, it is not without irony that Paul declares that he will boast all the more gladly of his weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon him. For when he is weak, then he is strong.
People who are full of themselves leave no space for God to work in them. For Paul, his avowed weakness becomes an entry point for God. Recognizing his weaknesses is his affirmation that God has to work on him, like clay waiting for the fire in the furnace to polish and sheen. In essence, this is Paul’s getting out of the way of himself, out of the way of pride, so that God’s strength can be seen more clearly.
I confess that a sense of being self-sufficient, among others, needing none but myself is a “thorn in the flesh” that I keep begging God to pluck. It could be any chink in one’s armor of self-assuredness. A sense of entitlement, perhaps? Or just about anything that you beg God to take away from you, because, after all, you see it as keeping you in the way of God working his way into your life. A feeling that too often leads to pride, I expect no less from others – self-confident, self-assured – forgetting that no one could possibly inhabit the room of perfection! And so often, this results in frustration, in despair, even, ironically, in self-doubt.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, I hear God’s assurance simply, loudly and clearly: “my grace is sufficient.” That grace comes from Jesus Christ, who conquers all. Elsewhere Paul writes to the Philippians “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
In the Gospel reading, God, our Father and Mother, addresses our anxieties in the world by showing us: “…the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?”
Full of myself, I get frustrated when things don’t go as planned. I get too preoccupied with how others see me, what they say about me. I concern myself with pleasing people, succeeding, earning the praises of high heavens. But no one is able to be and do all that without being swallowed up by anxiety. And so, I am neither here nor there – “nagwawala, sa halip na nagmemeron!”
God’s admonition to the weak Paul consoles me no end: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And our Lord’s address to his disciples calls into question my order of my priorities. He says –
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin ….
If God so clothes the grass of the field, …
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith!
Worrying is as much a part of our life as breathing, true. Who doesn’t worry about one’s finances, the safety of family members, succeeding in one’s work – concerns with well-being, both material and spiritual? Our Lord, I don’t think, is saying we should purge all these concerns from our humanity. Rather, our Lord is saying that we shouldn’t be consumed by such worries. Instead, we should be consumed by our faith in his providence. We should not allow our worries to be in the way of God’s grace working in our life.
This morning, over at the Church of the Gesu, two Jesuits – Reverends Nikki James Lee and Mamert Mañus, both of the Society of Jesus – are being ordained to the priesthood. Deep in their hearts, they must be singing Father Ignatius de Loyola’s oblation to God, our Father and Mother – a beautiful and profound “yes” to the message of our readings for today. And so I end with the prayer:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
*image from the Internet