Sunday, 27 February 2011
8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury
We just heard in today’s Gospel text a beautiful example of Our Lord’s intimate and compassionate knowledge of our human nature. We heard Him speak about worrying –that thing that we can spend so much time and effort doing.
Over these past weeks we’ve heard Our Lord’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: Sometimes we hear Our Lord’s words uttered as words of authority, of command, sometimes we hear Him speak hard words that we know are not easy to follow. But today, as I said, we hear this same Lord, who was and is both fully God and fully human, we heard Him speak very human words to us:
words about worrying, words that show He knows exactly what we are like.
Most of us have at least some occasions when we worry. Many of us will have nights when we lie in bed worrying about things. And worrying is an odd thing: it’s not like planning or decision making when we actually achieve something, when we actually become better able to deal with what we must do. No, worrying does not help us in any way. As Jesus beautifully put it, “Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single cubit [or hour] to his span of life?”(Mt 6:27)
And yet, we do worry, and we often spend great energy worrying.
So, how can we avoid worrying? Perhaps in addressing this question Jesus’s words do get a little more pointed and challenging, because He directly turns His focus onto WHAT it is that we so typically worry about, i.e. as to whether it is selfish or materialistic worrying, or whether it is actually concern about heavenly things, “you cannot be the slave of two masters... of both God and of money [mammon]” (Mt 6:24).
Most of us have probably had moments when we realise that so often when we worry about something we worry about it because of how it will affect ME, not about how it will affect others -that even when we worry about family our worries can we filled with anxiety not for their sake but because of some way in which we fear matters will affect us: affect our time, our reputation, or something else. This is one aspect of worry that the Lord calls on us to identify within ourselves and to seek to “let go”, to detach ourselves from our selfish attachment, and to attach ourselves instead to God: “see ye first the kingdom of God” (Mt 6:33).
So, one cause of worry is materialism and the remedy to this is to remind ourselves that “life means more than food and the body more than clothing”(Mt 6:25).
A deeper cause of worry is our selfishness, and the remedy to this is to be bold enough to seek to love others first, and love God first and foremost, because when we do this our worries often take on a much reduced significance.
There is, however, yet another cause of worry, and that is our lack of trust in God. And here Jesus berated His disciples for being “men of little faith” (Mt 6:30). He pointed out that God cares for the flowers of the field and the birds of the sky, and yet God loves us much more than either of these.
This type of worry can often we rooted in a sort of mistaken attempt to do everything ourselves and by our own power. And the remedy to this is to call of God’s grace, trust in His strength, and trust in His plan for our welfare.
“So do not worry about tomorrow”, and as more literal translations put it in a beautiful parody of our own worrying: “tomorrow will worry about itself” (NIV) “tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (RSV), “Each day has troubles enough of its own”.
Clergy are not immune from worry, as I’m sure you’re aware. Popes are not immune from worry. As Pope John XXIII supposedly used to pray each night as he pondered the problems in the Church, “It's your Church, not mine, Lord. I'm going to sleep now”.
If we seek to put God’s things first, we use our talents as He has given them and work, plan, and make our decisions, then we should be able to take the good pope’s attitude for ourselves:
it’s His world, His problems, and we can entrust them to Him.