8 Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

This Sunday, which can fall either before Lent or after the Easter season, is not often celebrated.

Isaiah 49:14-15
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Matthew 6:24-34

THE GOSPEL IS A STRONG CHALLENGE to the lifestyle that prevails in most of our cities in the so-called developed world and in many parts of the developing world too.  Jesus puts it very bluntly: "You cannot at the same time be the slave of God and money (and this includes all the things that equate to money, like property, cars, clothes, foreign holidays, etc.)"  As such, he does not criticise the having of things.  What is in question is our attitude towards them, our being in thrall to them, having our lives controlled by them and, above all, being unable to share them with those in real need.  Also in question is the false illusion that, if we have money and power, we have control of our lives.  We are secure.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  So ultimately Jesus is teaching us that our only real security is total trust in God’s love for us.

    Money primarily is a means of exchange by which we can provide for the needs of our life, whatever those needs are at any given time.  The problem begins when money and the pursuit of money becomes an end in itself, "I want to be rich."  Which soon becomes "I have to be rich".  And, when I am rich, when I have lots of things, I will go to any length to hold on to them.  It is amazing how very rich people keep being driven to make more till they have more than they could possible spend.  There was the case of a dollar billionaire in an Asian country who went to jail for insider trading on the stock exchange in order to make even more than he already had.  And, after he came out of jail, he was worth more than twice than when he went in.  When a very rich man died, someone asked how much he had left.  "Every red cent," was the answer.  "You can’t take it with you," as the cliche‚ goes. 

What will we bring with us?
And, in a way, that is what Jesus is asking us to consider.  When we come to the end of our lives what do we want to bring with us and what do we want to leave behind?  Would you want to die alone and desperately lonely and unlamented like billionaires Getty and Howard Hughes or be like a Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi who just kept giving themselves to others and were mourned by millions? 

    Jesus is asking us today to reflect on what are our most basic values in life.  Is it just what we want to have or is it what we most want to be?  What is life about?  Is it a matter of getting what we have not got or sharing with others what we have, however little it may seem to be?  Is to be rich the only thing I want?  Or are there other values, other more precious qualities which no bank can evaluate?  What about things like happiness, peace, freedom, contentment, wonderful friends, a supportive family?  Does having money guarantee us these things?  Are they not available even to those who have little or no money?

Conflicting goals
We have to make a choice between the God’s vision of life and a preoccupation with money and possessions.  They are not compatible.  They involve conflicting goals in life and different visions of what is most important in life.  The truly materialistic person may have a veneer of Christian practice but cannot be a really committed Christian. 
    By definition, to be rich is to have more, a lot more than others.  To continue to live this way when in the same society there are many poor, that is, people who do not have enough cannot be equated with a following of the Christian Way.

    Jesus preaches something like what St Ignatius Loyola calls ‘indifference’ to material things.  Obviously some material things — like food and clothing and shelter — are necessary to daily living and everyone has a right to have these things.  At different times other things will be necessary too, such as basic medical care, education…
      The attitude of ‘indifference’ in this sense is not that one does not care; on the contrary, one cares very much.  But one cares to have things and to use things only in so far as they are needed to love and serve God and others for his sake.  This involves a very high level of inner freedom — the ability to say ‘Yes’ only to what I need.

Trust in God
Linked to our attitude to material things, Jesus further urges greater trust and confidence in God’s care for us.  Isaiah in the First Reading speaks of Israel as feeling abandoned and forgotten by God in its times of trial.  The response comes in one of the tenderest passages in the whole of the Bible: "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."

    For his part, Jesus points to nature.  Nature lives always in the present.  It never shows any anxiety about the future. Yet it is covered with a staggering beauty.  Solomon in all his glory cannot match the lilies of the field.  But, if God lavishes such beauty on things which quickly wither away, how much care will he not lavish on his own children?

    Jesus urges us to liberate ourselves from worry and anxiety about our body and material things such as food and clothing.  To be concerned about food because right now I am very hungry and do not have anything to eat is very different from worrying whether I will have food next month; to be anxious about what is happening when I am in intensive care is very different from wondering how long my health will hold up in the coming years; to be fretting because I have no money to pay my rent with the landlord knocking at the door is very different from wondering whether I will ever be rich.    Worry and anxiety about the future are a waste of time and energy yet we indulge in them so much.  They are a waste of time and energy because they are about things which do not exist and very possibly may never exist.  As Fr Tony de Mello used to say, quoting a Buddhist axiom: “Why worry?  If you don’t worry, you die; if you do worry, you die.  So, why worry?”    So we are invited to look at the birds of the air and the flowers in the field.  They do nothing except be themselves and God takes care of them.  And how beautiful they are!  When their time comes they pass away.  We are often so busy regretting the past or worrying about the future that we never get to enjoy life in the here and now.

Paul in today’s Second Reading gives us another reason for not being obsessed with our future security.  Here in the present, we simply have too much to do.  We are, he says, Christ’s servants.  And as such, responsibilities have been entrusted to us, mainly to build up the Body of Christ in our Christian communities and to spread the Gospel message of God’s love far and wide.  "What is expected of stewards is that each one should be found worthy of [God’s] trust."  In other words, we are not being trustworthy stewards if, like the man in the parable, we take the gift that God has given us and bury it in the ground for fear it should be lost.  No.  If large sums of money or goods come our way, we are not to store them away.  Our gifts are to used here and now and every day.  We should simply be too busy doing God’s work to have time to worry about the non-existent future.  As the saying goes, "Let go and let God".

Be here
To be fully alive, Fr Tony de Mello also used to advise: "Be yourself.  Be here.  Be now."  Enjoyment and happiness are only in the present.  Nowhere else.  If we keep looking forward or looking back we will never find happiness.  It is right here in our grasp at every moment of every day.  Again as Fr Tony used to say, "You have everything you need right now to be happy." 

    Do we believe that?  How our lives would be transformed if only we could really believe it!  Jesus puts the same thing today in different words, "Do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself."  God is only to be found in the here and now; he is always available.

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