27Feb Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Theme

Some people find their lives darkened and blighted by constant worry. Today’s Scriptures encourage us not to worry about tomorrow but to trust in God’s providence. Our God is full of loving compassion, and He knows each one by name. What a difference it would make if we let ourselves believe and trust that God holds us always in his view, or “carved on the palm of his hand.”

Readings

Is 49:14-16. God’s love is like a woman’s compassion for the child of her womb. We are “carved on the palm of his hand.”

1 Cor 4:1-5. The Apostles get their authority from God, not from the community. They remain responsible to be “stewards of the mysteries of God.”

Mt 6:24-34. Jesus calls us to radical trust in our heavenly Father. Deep down, we are not worry about our life, or clothing; for all our needs will be supplied by merciful Providence.

{For the full text of today’s readings, scroll to the end of this file}.

Bidding Prayers

– that we may have a renewed trust in God, to allow us overcome all our anxieties, fears and complexes.

– that we may know and accept the basic, living truth of our faith, that we are “carved on the palm of his hand.”

– for all those who suffer or have suffered nervous breakdowns, that they will find new peace of mind in God’s love.

– that we may grow in, and share with others, our trust in God’s providence, and the conviction that “all manner of things will be well.”

Let Tomorrow Take Care of Itself (Liam Swords)

While working in Paris I was taking a stroll one summer’s evening. I am a creature of habit and I usually followed the same route. An old man once advised me always to take a circular route as every step outwards is a step homewards. That evening I made a slight diversion to pass by an Irish pub where I had to leave a message. Just as I was heading up the narrow street where the Irish pub was situated, I was faintly aware of a young man walking almost parallel to me in the middle of the street. Suddenly, he swung round and began to attack me. He held me by my jacket and struck me with his fist several times. I cannot remember the details clearly as it was totally unexpected when it happened and I was deeply shocked when it was over. I thought his fist landed three times but when I counted the bruises the following morning, they were five. I never struck back. I must be a pacifist deep down or too long a priest. He knocked me to the ground. I began to shout “Help!” and then, realising I was in Paris, I changed to “au sécours!” I was only ten yards from the pub where I could see a face peering out at me.

Frightened by my screams, my assailant took off. I picked myself up, dusted myself down – two buttons had been wrenched off my jacket – and with all the dignity I could muster, I walked into the pub. When I recounted my story there, the owner of the face at the window told me he heard the shouting and when he looked out he saw what he took to be a drunk lying on the Street. What a shoddy end it might have been for the Irish chaplain in Paris! It was the only time I was ever mugged. Ever since I have been looking over my shoulder.

One thing is sure, somebody up there was looking after me. As Isaiah puts it: Does a woman forget a baby at the breast?
or fail to cherish the son of her womb?
Yet even if these forget,
I will never forget you.

We are afraid of something all of the time and of everything some of the time. We are afraid of failure. We are afraid of letting others down and of being let down ourselves by others. We are afraid to love somebody because we are afraid they will not love us. We are afraid of losing our jobs, our health, our security, our grip. We are afraid of growing old and of dying. Most of all we are afraid of being afraid.

It is like a plague that nobody can escape. Everybody suffers from it. It mars the development of children. It torments adolescents. It affects newly-weds. It ravages those in their forties and it haunts the old. Adolescence and the forties are regarded as the crisis years. It-comes in a wide variety of forms. Nervousness, stress, tension, pressure, anxiety. It manifests itself in countless ways from a nervous tic to a nervous breakdown. Or as in my case now, a tendency to look over my shoulder at every shadow in the street.

In today’s gospel Christ wants to reassure us: So do not worry; do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?” It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

How Not to Worry? (John Walsh)

Although it is impossible for us to penetrate to the inner make-up of the mind of Jesus, we can nevertheless gain insights into it from meditating on passages of the New Testament, such as today’s gospel reading. “I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Surely life means more than food and the body more than clothing. Set your heart first on the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well. So don’t worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for each day are the things that go wrong on that day.” From all these sayings, and from the recorded events of his public mission, the thing which strikes us especially is the absence of constraint in the life of Christ. He seemed to pass as free as the wind through all our man-made structures of duty and obligation. He steadily disobeyed the demands of what we regard as self-interest and self-preservation. His whole manner of life, and even more so his manner of dying, was a challenge to necessity, to the order of toil, hunger, passions, the struggle against nature, the struggle to hang on to life. Christ confounded his critics by conforming to no set pattern.

For a few brief years he emerged from his hidden existence in Nazareth, and became a wandering preacher, without a purse, often without a place to lay his head. He expected people to lend him a boat, or a beast to ride on, with as little hesitation as he himself was prepared to give to them his coat or his cloak, should the need so arise. His sternest reprimand for his Apostles was reserved for Peter who counselled caution in the face of danger to his life. For him, even death was not a necessity. “I lay down my life for my sheep. No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will” (Jn 10:15, 18). His entire preaching and career was a denial of the easy notion, held by the rich and healthy, that people get their deserts in this life.

It did not worry him that he was criticised for consorting openly with publicans and sinners, the despised ones of Jewish society. By so doing, he is telling us that people do not have to be good for God to accept them. God bestows his gifts freely. He is, under no constraint to distribute them in the manner of wages by way of reward for good behaviour. Even while the human race was still in sin, God loved it, by sending his own divine Son to redeem it. The secret of Christ’s influence on people with whom he came in contact was, perhaps, the unmistakable difference between him and all others, the fact that although he was in this world, he appeared to be motivated and governed by values nowhere found in it. He was beyond comparison with others, nor did he try and offer concrete proof of his credentials, like the prophets of the Old Testament.

Nevertheless, people of all kinds were drawn to him, men, women, children, tax collectors, even people of ill repute in society, and he showed concern for all, something Jewish rabbis never did. Although he humbly said, “Happy is the one who does not take offence at me” (Mt 11:6), he was always in control of every situation. He could see through the remarks of his opponents, refute their objections, answer their questions, or force them into answering them themselves, with the result that even the Scribes, as St Luke remarks (20:40), dared not ask him any further questions. As to ordinary people, so great were the numbers drawn to him, to listen to him, to be cured of their illnesses, or just to witness the miracles worked by him, that he had to take his disciples aside to rest awhile.

Today’s gospel says that whether we are rich or poor, whether we are good or bad, whatever the activity we are engaged in, our lives are intended to bear witness to the supreme generosity, love, and freedom of the providence of God which watches over all of us. Our spirits, then, must always be free to reach out to God, and not become bogged down by concern for purely material needs, the daily demands of life. Because if we become engrossed in the provision of the necessities of life, we can, so easily, lose sight of the value of life itself. This does not mean that we should never take all the necessary steps for the prudent handling of life. But worry must not cloud out our vision of life’s meaning. Each day should be lived as it comes, each task fulfilled as it appears, and then the sum of all our days will enable us to partake finally of the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Images of God (John Craghan)

One may choose to develop the image of God as mother. This an image that can relate to the plight of others. It has to do with comforting and consoling them. To meet those needs is to image our God as mother.

In the first reading Yahweh functions as a mother. The situation in exile is not simply one of warfare logistics that result in the displacement of people. Rather, Yahweh’s child feels abandoned and neglected. With the most profound feelings of maternal concern Yahweh is committed to provide for her child. If other mothers could possibly forget their children, still this is totally inconceivable for the God of Israel. To call Yahweh mother is to conjure up the following: tenderness, comfort, sustenance.

To be sure, Matthew speaks in this passage about God as “the heavenly Father.” However, he also mentions those chores that we specifically the tasks of the mother and wife, e.g., cooking, fetching water, and providing clothing. While Matthew stresses the gospel priority (“Seek first”), he does not neglect presenting the concerns of God as mother. Because God is also mother, she acknowledges that her charge is to obtain food, water, and clothing. (See Exod 16:4-15; 17:1-7 where Mother Yahweh meets the needs of her family in the desert.) The Needs of the community are not neglected by Mother Yahweh.

One may elect to point out particular problems in the community that call for particular attention in terms of concern and relief. One may want to show that the community must recognise the problem as its problem and then with motherly concern address the issue. To meet such challenges is to image our God as mother.

One may choose to link this theme with the celebration of Eucharist. Eucharist has its setting in a meal where the needs of the family are central. (See Prov 9:1-6, where Lady Wisdom functions as hostess.) Eucharist implies that to be nourished at the table is to nourish others in different settings. Eucharist demands that we develop a sense of compassion and caring for the community. To reach out to others is grounded in the celebration of Eucharist. To that extent Eucharist speaks of God as mother and challenges all believers to adopt this manner of maternal concern.

Trust not in riches (Henry Wansbrough)

The danger of riches is a theme which recurs again and again in the gospels, in the story of the rich young man who half wishes to be a disciple, in the parable of the camel and the eye of the needle, and, perhaps most ominously of all, in the parable of the rich fool who builds more barns and settles down to enjoy his wealth, only to be summoned by God that night. One of the risks of wealth which is most stressed, and has been stressed throughout the Old Testament and particularly in the message of the prophets, is the responsibility which wealth carries with it, the danger of selfishness and the responsibility of using riches for the good of those in need.

But more prominent in this gospel passage is the danger of the rich man putting his trust in wealth rather than in God, of wealth taking for him the position which God should have. In the synoptic gospels faith is primarily a matter of putting one’s trust in God and in Christ. So in the miracles of healing it is often stressed that the cure is a response to the sufferer putting all his trust and confidence in Jesus’ powers. The definition of a disciple is “one of these little ones who put their trust in me” (Mt. 18:6), that is, have no pretensions for themselves but leave everything to Christ. The reproach “men of little faith” is addressed to the disciples not when they lack understanding but when they are frightened through lack of trust in Jesus, in the storm on the lake and when Peter’s heart fails him as he walks to Jesus over the water, or simply when they are afraid that Jesus will let them go hungry. The prime commitment to Jesus is, then, not a matter of asserting anything about him such as his divine nature, but simply of putting oneself in his hands as the unique saviour. From this wealth is a temptation since it may persuade the rich man that he can get all he wants for himself simply by purchase, not realising how much he is missing but on.

It is here that the fatherly and motherly love of God mentioned and commented on in the first reading plays its part, for the reliance on God is the reliance which a child has on its father, a simplicity of trust in an all-powerful and all-loving protector, who can be relied on to provide everything we need.

Our Priorities (Jack McArdle)

Today’s gospel is about getting our priorities right. If we believe what Jesus tells us then, surely, we have no reason to worry about anything. St Paul tells us, “Having given us Christ Jesus, will the Father not surely give us everything else?’

Catholics of my generation would be familiar with the rosary, and the part it played in our formative years. Rosary beads were always hanging somewhere near the fireplace, and our grannies never seemed to leave them out of their hands. There is another set of beads, available today, which are called “worry beads.” These beads are also worked through the fingers, one after another, the big difference being that there is no prayer being said. This is intended as some sort of distracting pre-occupation for those who are anxious or worried. Both sets of beads represent two ways of dealing with worry. One is to pray about it, and the other is to continue to worry about it. Today’s gospel challenges Christians as to which beads they should use.

There is a great difference between being rich and being wealthy. I could be rich, and yet have no money. Of all the false gods we can have, money is the most popular. If wealth could bring happiness, then all wealthy people would be happy; but that is not so. I could lose myself and my soul to wealth, and end up knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that we cannot serve God and money. He is not saying that we should not have money, that money is evil, or that it is incompatible with being a Christian. The problem arises when I come to answer the question, “What is it that you love with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind?” To that question some people could answer “God,” while others would answer “Money.” It is in this situation that Jesus says, “you cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve God and money.”

Life is a gift from God and, with the gift, comes whatever it takes to live it. This may seem a contradiction when we think of the starving millions around the world, who have nothing to eat. It may not be of any great consolation to them to know that there is actually enough food in today’s world for everybody. The real problem is that, while one half the world is dying of hunger, the other half is on a diet, trying to lose weight. If those who have, heeded today’s gospel, then the awful imbalance and injustice would be rectified.

God is the Creator of the universe, and that includes the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Jesus refers to this when he wants to remind us of how God creates, and continues to take responsibility for his creation. Because of the fact that we have the gift of reason, however, we have a great advantage over the birds and the lilies. We have choices, and we can make decisions. Our heavenly Father knows our needs, and all we have to do is to trust him, and to seek to live in his kingdom, and “everything else will be added to us.” Jesus taught his disciples one simple, short prayer. In it he told them to ask each day for what they need that day. Nothing more. Today’s gospel ends with the words, “don’t worry about tomorrow. Today’s troubles are enough for today.”

When I was growing up, I thought of false gods as being huge golden statues, with people bowing profoundly before them. I no longer think that way, since there are false gods all around me. For one person it’s money, for another it’s power, and for someone else it’s fame, and the good life. AU trends in stock markets, political polls, or the latest fashions, are followed with slavish intensity. These gods claim complete control and absolute obedience. They rule the lives of people and, indeed, they often ruin the lives of people. There is an empty space within, there is a hole in the human heart, and that can never be filled by any or all of these false gods. Jesus tells us that we cannot serve two masters.

When Moses asked God what his name was, he was told “I am who am.” God is totally a God of now. That is why Jesus speaks of the foolishness of worrying about tomorrow. In the only prayer he taught us, he told to ask for our daily bread, just what I need for today. There is a difference between what I need and what I want. We are all aware of things that we want, but don’t really need. If God were cruel and sadistic, he would give me everything I ask for, and then have a good laugh! I often ask God for things that are not for my own good. Because God always answers prayers, there are times when the answer has to be no.

There are people who seem to be born worriers. They are always waiting on the other shoe to fall. If things are going well, it is the calm before the storm. For some of these people, this has become a way of life, and it is unlikely that they will change. Some of them, however, do get counselling and develop enough determination to decide that they have had enough. They have become sick and tired of being sick and tired. It is at such a moment that they may be ready to fall on their knees and hand the whole burden over to God. It is at such a moment, also, of course, that the miracle happens, and they find a life beyond their wildest dreams.

If I could make today’s gospel my own, it would totally transform my life. All great evangelists, founders and saints, whether canonised or not, were people of solid faith. It was never a question of clenched fist, rugged jaw, or gritted teeth. Their faith was not in their own faith. They were able to stand back, get out of the way, and watch the Lord at work. It was like Mary at Cana. She didn’t work the miracle, but she knew that Jesus could and would, if his help was sought. Jesus didn’t go around healing anybody. He went around with the power to heal, and the person on the roadside had a decision to make. “Do you believe that I can do this?” The answer, on occasions, was “I believe, Lord; help my unbelief. Lord increase my faith.”

I cannot be a peacemaker in the lives of others if I don’t have peace within my own heart. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

First Reading: Isaiah 49:14-16

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.

Second Reading: First Epistle to the Corinthians 4:1-5

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God.

Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.


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