Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Trusting God for All We Need: Readings for the 8th Sunday in OT

As we continue reading the Sermon on the
Mount this week, we come to the place where God assures us that he will meet our temporal needs: “seek first the kingdom and its righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well.”  How often the saints have found this to be true, beginning as young people with nothing and often ending their lives at the head of orders or movements with amazing resources!  And yet, to take advantage of these resources for personal gain would be to lose the way, and begin worshipping a false God.  So today’s readings urge us to trust God for want we need, but never to see God and his service as a means to some other end.

1. Our First Reading is Is 49:14-15:

Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me;
my LORD has forgotten me."
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you.

Today’s first reading is from the second half of Isaiah (40-66), which is, for the most part, one long word of comfort to Israel concerning the glories of the coming age.  In this passage, “Zion” is urged to take comfort in the fact that the Lord has not forgotten her.  Zion is sometimes synonymous with Jerusalem, but to be precise, it was the location in Jerusalem of the royal palace and government of the Kingdom of David.  The Kingdom of David is, according to Raymond Brown, the closest type of the Church in the Old Testament.  “Zion” in Isaiah is often used by metonymy (“a part for the whole”) to refer to the entire Kingdom of David.  The apostles understood “Zion” in the Psalms and in the Prophets as a reference to the Church, which is the Kingdom of Jesus, Son of David.  Thus we read in Hebrews:

You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem .... to the Church of the Firstborn ... (Heb 12:22-23)

Holy Mother Church wishes us, her children, to see ourselves as the Zion whom God wishes to comfort this Lord’s Day.

P. Our Responsorial Psalm is Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9:

R. (6a) Rest in God alone, my soul.
Only in God is my soul at rest;
from him comes my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed at all.
R. Rest in God alone, my soul.
Only in God be at rest, my soul,
for from him comes my hope.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed.
R. Rest in God alone, my soul.
With God is my safety and my glory,
he is the rock of my strength; my refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, O my people!
Pour out your hearts before him.
R. Rest in God alone, my soul.

In the responsorial Psalm, King David urges us, the subjects of his Kingdom, not to put our trust in any physical protection or material defense, but in God alone.  This is ironic, because David built up the walls of Jerusalem and her defenses, and his son Solomon even more so (see Eilat Mazur’s excavations here:  Despite this, David realized ultimately the only true protection and defense comes from God, not stone walls.

2. Our Second Reading comes from 1 Cor 4:1-5:

Brothers and sisters:
Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Now it is of course required of stewards
that they be found trustworthy.
It does not concern me in the least
that I be judged by you or any human tribunal;
I do not even pass judgment on myself;
I am not conscious of anything against me,
but I do not thereby stand acquitted;
the one who judges me is the Lord.
Therefore do not make any judgment before the appointed time,
until the Lord comes,
for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness
and will manifest the motives of our hearts,
and then everyone will receive praise from God.

In the Second Reading, Paul tactfully defends his role, and that of his co-workers, as “servants of the Anointed One (that is, the King, the Son of David)” and “stewards of the mysteries of God.”  Paul here insists, in humility, on the authority he has as apostle, a viceroy in the Kingdom of Heaven brought to earth by the Son of David.  While he knows he is to be held accountable for his leadership of the Church, he knows and insists that his ultimate accountability is to God alone, who will “manifest the motives of our hearts.”

Those that follow in the footsteps of the Apostles as their successors and co-workers continue this ministry of stewardship of the divine mysteries.  It is not required of bishops, priests, or deacons that they be brilliant, or funny, or talented, or popular, but rather “trustworthy.”  Holy Orders is a selfless role.  The clergyman is not called to build his own Church, but Christ’s Church.  He is also not called to preach his own doctrines, the things that seem right in his own eyes, or his own unique philosophy.  Rather, he’s called to embrace and transmit what the Church teaches.  It’s a ministry of stewardship, not of innovation.  That’s what Pope Francis has tried to articulate in various interviews where he has said, “The teaching of the Church is clear, and I am a son of the Church.”  This expression, “a son of the Church,” tries to encapsulate the sense of docility to something bigger than oneself, for which one is responsible for a while, but has received it from others and will hand it on to others.  We should all foster this attitude—to be a son or daughter of the Church—and try to believe and do what the Church believes and does, rather than fulfill our own personal preferences.

G.  Our Gospel is Mt 6:24-34:
Jesus said to his disciples:
"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."

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus continues to instruct us in the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

The Kingdom of Heaven is the theme of the entire Sermon on the Mount, from the first beatitude (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”) until the final conclusion (“Those who do these words ... are like a wise man who built his house on the rock”), which is an allusion to King Solomon, who ruled over the proto-type of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes clear that the Kingdom of Heaven is not characterized by external wealth and the acquisition of material goods.  Ironically, throughout the Old Testament, the acquisition of wealth tended to lead to the undoing of the Kingdom of David, as the people of Jerusalem grew proud and turned away from dependence on the LORD.  This is a constant theme of the Prophets, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah.

The “finest hours” of the Kingdom of David occurred when King and people humbled themselves in total dependence on God (see Isaiah 37; 2 Chronicles 20:5-30).  The lifestyle prescribed for kingdom citizens in today’s Gospel is just that.  We must absent ourselves from the “rat race” that characterizes the rest of our culture, and make our priority not the acquisition of wealth and status, but the development of the “righteousness” of the Kingdom of God, which can probably be summarized by the virtues of the beatitudes: poverty of spirit, contrition, meekness, desire for holiness, mercy/forgiveness, purity of heart, peacefulness, and acceptance of persecution.

Worry about material needs is one of the most common “spoilers” of the success of various church ministries.  Many people dedicate themselves to the work of the Church as idealist young people, who have nothing and do not desire anything.  Later, though, the desire for material goods, for honors, for power, creeps in, and individuals find themselves in the ridiculous position of trying to accumulate worldly riches or comfort while working for the Church.  This can lead to great unhappiness and bitterness, a complaining spirit that is a counter-witness to the Gospel, a kind of “kakangelism” (“bad news”) of Satan.  Periodically we need an examination of conscience to remind ourselves of our real goal in life and our real mission.  Sometimes adversity—such as sickness, financial reverses, political pressure, even persecution and imprisonment—are sent our way by God to shake us out of a too-easy pursuit of Mammon. 

The Readings this week are calling us to renew a life of trust in a God who knows our needs and will supply them, but also knows many of our “needs” are really just “wants” which wouldn’t be good for us anyway.  This trusting, confident relationship with God is really necessary if we are to maintain our joy as we follow Jesus through the trials of this present life. 

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