February 26, 2017
EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Can a mother forget her infant?
Only in God is my soul at rest
1 Cor 4:1-5
Servants of Christ and stewards
Do not worry about your life
The case can be made that the thread of continuity running through the Sermon on the Mount is trust. This means trust in God, without a doubt, but also trust in one another. The Gospel for today makes this its explicit theme.
It is already suggested in the short first reading from Isaiah. In this somewhat surprising passage, God Yahweh is compared to a mother nursing her babe, Jerusalem. The counsel of trust that is sounded here is echoed in the reading from First Corinthians, as Paul tells the community members of Corinth that they should be trustworthy servants. The loyal servant is added to the nursing mother as an image of one who can be trusted.
By this time we are ready to hear the message of the Gospel reading. The passage begins and ends with a call to avoid worrying, repeated like a refrain. In between these two refrains two examples are drawn out to some length. We are familiar with the idea that three necessities of life are food, clothing and shelter. The Gospel reading takes up the first two of these in turn.
The passage develops each in a similar fashion. First raising the topic question, food or clothing, it follows with an example. In the case of food, it is the birds of the sky. They are fed even though they do not sow or reap. And yet, “you,” the disciple, are more important than they. And in the case of clothing, take a look at the grass of the field. You are more important than they. So, do not worry.
Does this say that we should just relax, and let God take care of things. Just sit back, and enjoy the scene? All human effort is futile? Not necessarily.
The passage distinguishes between where we can in fact make a difference, and where we can’t—“Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” It suggests that worrying about that which we cannot change is useless. It doesn’t say more than that. But still, that is quite enough. We still find it hard to avoid being troubled by that which we cannot control. Again, the advice is to move forward in a spirit of trust in God. And in one another, I think.
This is radical news, and I wonder how many actually succeed in living in complete trust in God. St. Francis? St. Charles de Foucauld? The Little Sisters of the Poor? In any case, it would seem, not many.
Perhaps this can serve as an illustration: Since this is the last Sunday before Lent, we leave Matthew’s Gospel for now. We return to Matthew after Pentecost, but then we will be in chapter 10. So we do not get to hear the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount.
The concluding parable is a famous one, the story of the Two Builders, one building a house on sand, the other on rock. In our tradition, we have a story somewhat similar—the nursery tale of the Three Pigs. In both cases, there is the flimsy building contrasted with the firm. And we know the lesson of the Three Pigs. It is about security, strong walls, safety alarms and anything else we can muster to save our property.
But what is arresting about the parable is its introduction. “Whoever hears these words and does them” will be like the one who built on rock. And, “everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not do them” will be like the foolish one who built on sand. Who hasn’t heard these words?
And what are they about? Not bricks and guard dogs, but trust. Just trust.
For reflection: Why do we worry?
Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.