Year A: Eighth Sunday Ordinary Time
Don’t worry about tomorrow
Matthew 6: 24-34
“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or 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 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?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? 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. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
- To what degree does anxiety over security and survival needs interfere with your trust in God’s care? How do you balance self-sufficiency with dependence on God? Explain.
- How does thinking of yourself as a steward of God’s resources help you to be a better husband, a better parent and less possessive of material resources and relationships?
- What role do material possessions play in your life? Are you overly attached to “things” to a degree they sometimes come before God? How do you keep this in check?
- In what ways do you see yourself seeking the Kingdom of God and where are there areas for growth here?
Matthew 6: 24-38
Sr. Mary McGlone CSJ
In today’s segment from the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches about the demands of discipleship. Later on, he will tell the disciples to go out without provisions (Matthew 10:9-10) and that giving up home and hearth for him will bring them a hundred-fold (Matthew 19:29). Here, during their early experiences with him it’s as if Jesus were giving them their freshman orientation, making it as clear as he can that discipleship is an all or nothing venture. Jesus actually uses the vocabulary of slavery to describe their relationship to God — although in this case, the individuals would choose freely which master they would serve.
As he developed this teaching, Jesus continued to use vivid language to describe discipleship. When he said that servants can be “devoted” to only one master, the Greek word Matthew quoted means to cling to something in such a way that the one holding on becomes like that which is held. That’s an idea we see repeated in the Parable of the Talents (Mt. 25:14-30) where the servants who acted like the master were rewarded while the one who feared him was rejected. The strength of this concept translates well into English with the word “devoted.” “Devoted” derives from words which mean to make a vow. A synonym for “devoted” is “consecrated.” The relationship Jesus expects between disciples and God is uncompromising. There’s no wiggle room.
The opposite of devotion to God is service of mammon. Mammon is not the devil or even money in particular, but rather possessions in a comprehensive sense. Jesus was pointing out how easy it is to become a slave of what we think we own — we need only note how a cell phone can take priority over everything from the family dinner table to the driver’s seat. Given the automatic and unfailing obedience we give to a ring tone, one would think that failing to answer involved a public display of immorality. It’s small comfort to realize that the tendency to allow our things to dominate us is anything but new in human history.
After speaking about the exclusivity of commitment involved in discipleship, Jesus goes on to explain what discipleship offers. We might look at this as part of the longest-lasting and most audacious advertising campaign ever broadcast. For nearly 2,000 years, humanity has heard Jesus say, “You’ve got nothing to worry about! Clothing? If the birds don’t worry, why should you? Food? In case you didn’t notice, the earth and its oceans were custom designed to produce and reproduce it for every creature that will ever live!” We might ask why it is so easy to believe something like “You’re in good hands with Allstate,” while we’re so reluctant to let Jesus’ assurances guide us. Perhaps it’s the psychology of a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; like Isaiah’s dejected people, we’ll trust the limited warranty on our car brakes more than God’s promise of life.
We need to understand the injunction not to worry as an extension of Jesus’ teaching about discipleship. He actually claimed that it’s pagan to waste our time on concerns about food and drink. According to Jesus, life is all about seeking God’s kingdom and if we really do that, everything else will fall into place.
The truth is that in Jesus’ time as in our own, we have a limited attention span. Even the acts of seeing and hearing are discernments about what deserves our attention and what is only peripheral. Jesus is not suggesting that we don’t need to dress for work or pack a lunch, but rather that the way we do so will make all the difference. It’s like the distinction between the two 13th century laborers working next to each other in Chartres; when asked what they were doing one said he was laying bricks and the other that he was building a cathedral.
Pope Francis would have us understand that serving God and seeking the kingdom of heaven implies “a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable … development” of our world (Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home #13). Jesus oriented the freshmen disciples, the course Francis is teaching might be called “Discipleship 2017.”
The call of today’s Gospel is becoming devoted disciples who trust the God who loves us like a mother and promises that we’ve got everything we need as long as we are willing to share it.
What is your master?
Masters always make servants. What dominates our consciousness and dictates our actions is what we ultimately value and is that with which we identify ourselves, it masters us. We attend to it so completely that when other concerns seek our attention, we push them away. This is especially true when our ultimate options are either God or money. If we feverishly seek money as the foundation of our security, we will have no time for the type of security God provides. God will seem vague and illusive next to the soothing social value of cash. On the other hand, if we seek God, the anxious quest for physical security will not be as all- important at it once was. Although the text presents God and money asan either-or proposition, God and money can be integrated God and money can be integrated into the life of an individual, but only if God is the master.
Those who know the revelation of Jesus know the transcendent source of love is aware of everything we need. Therefore, our inner life is freed from preoccupation with physical survival and open for another possibility. We can seek first the kingdom and its righteousness, a way of life grounded in God and in creative service to our brothers, sisters, and neighbors. If we dedicate ourselves in this way, what we need for physical survival will be available to us. But it will not be there as a result of frantic effort. It will be given as the support of kingdom activities, added on to the primary mission of transforming life.
So how should we grapple with this spiritual teaching about anxious survival and money versus birds and flowers and God? Although there have been and are many Christians who believe that if your primary concern is the kingdom and its righteousness, God will provide for your physical needs, I cannot wholeheartedly go there. If this is faith, then I fall in with the crowd that Jesus characterizes as “you of little faith” Physical needs are provided by human effort working in conjunction with the God-given basics of creation. But God does not miraculously supply food and shelter, even if we are completely kingdom driven. This was Satan’s temptation to Jesus in the desert, and he refused it (e.g., Matt 4:1-11). I think the teaching initiates a process of integration. It presents with two alternatives. Either (1) understand and inhabit your life as an anxious project for future physical survival or (2) understand and inhabit your life as a present gift sustained by God prior to any human activity to secure it. The teaching assumes the first state of anxiety consciousness is “where most people are at” and advocates for the second state of gift-consciousness. The rhetoric of the text is meant to help us attain, in a fleeting way, “gift-consciousness.”
If we have more and more experiences of gift-consciousness, we will learn to appreciate ourselves from this perspective. Then we will put this sensibility into dialogue with anxiety-consciousness. In an ideal picture of transformation, this conversation will gradually loosen the stranglehold of anxiety-consciousness. Eventually, our anxieties will be integrated into gift-consciousness, and there will be one master, God. The ones who serve this master will know how to use the powerful tool of money and how to deal with the mental spasms of Worry.
Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.