Homily for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 27, 2011

Church of the Resurrection, Cincinnati

 

(Based on Isaiah 49:14-15; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34)

 

ďDonít be afraid! Donít worry about your life, or what youíre going to eat!Ē

 

Is this what the Lord is really saying to us at a time like this? When millions of people are out of work? When many are in danger of losing their homes or have already lost them? When the numbers showing up at our food pantries and soup kitchens is growing every week?

 

Donít worry? To proclaim such a message at such a time could appear to be cold, or even cruel.

 

We need to be very careful how we apply the words of Scripture to our present circumstances.

 

There are people who have taken a text like this and applied it in a very simplistic fashion. They translate it into a call for passivity. Godís going to take care of us, so whatís to be concerned about?

 

In the years immediately following Jesusí ascension it wasnít long before some of the Thessalonians adopted that stance. They said, ďJesus is going to return very soon so letís just forget about working. Letís just chill out and enjoy ourselves.Ē And they became a burden on the rest of the community. Paul had to bring them up short.

 

Thatís not what the teaching of Jesus is all about.

 

Itís really about the challenge of not getting hooked on things that could divert us from our mission as apostles of the kingdom. Itís about avoiding a self-centered anxiety that makes us forget what weíre here for. Itís about putting excessive value on things that donít deserve it. Itís about being clear on what comes first, on having the right priorities. Itís about not being enslaved by our desires, being controlled by them.

 

You know, there are some lovely images in these words of Jesus. The birds of the air, the lilies of the field. But those who turn it all into a call to passivity reduce those images to sentimentality, to romantic piety. Hallmark spirituality. The birds are always singing; there are no storms. The lilies of the field are all arranged in perfect rows like a perpetual exhibit at the Krohn Conservatory. The sun is always shining.

 

If the Lord is telling us what not to do, itís more important to look at what he is positively telling us we are called to do. Itís captured on one word.

 

ďSeek.Ē Seek. Seeking is not passivity, it is urgent. It speaks of passion, of desire, of refusing to be denied. The psalmist speaks of deer who are far from the springs of life, longing and thirsting for running water. We are called to get in touch with our deepest longing, and then go forth with conviction to find what will satisfy it.

 

And what is that? ďThe kingdom of God.Ē

 

The kingdom is not something sentimental or romantic. It involves the work of collaborating with the Lordís project of righteousness and justice. It means being engaged in the task of bringing people together, of restoring bonds that have been broken, of reconciling enemies.

 

And it means speaking out against injustice wherever it occurs. Whether that means the Middle Eastóor the Middle West. Itís easy to think that means Yemen or Egypt or Bahrain.

 

But it also means Wisconsin or Columbus. The media may not have paid much attention to the fact, but itís helpful to hear what the bishops of the state of Wisconsin said in a pastoral letter to all Catholics in the state. They remind us of our churchís social teaching for the past 100 years: that the right to bargain collectively in matters of oneís work is not something conferred by the state, it is inherent in our dignity as children of God.

 

Seek first the kingdom of God and everything else we need for that mission will be given to us.

 

But we are not alone in that mission. It is the Lordís work, not ours. That is the reason we are told not to be anxious. That work will be accomplished. In Isaiahís prophecy God tells us:

 

For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down

††††† and do not return there till they have watered the earth,

making it fertile and fruitful,

††††† giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats,

So shall my word be

††††† that goes forth from my mouth;

It shall not return to me void,

††††† But shall do my will,

††††† Achieving the end for which I sent it. (55:10-11)

 

Seek, really seek, and we will have what we need. And that includes the dark times.The kingdom grows slowly, like the seed in the ground. The people of Israel in their time of exile were subject to the temptation of believing that the Lord had abandoned them. ďThe Lord has forsaken us.Ē In response to their cry the prophet gives us what one biblical scholar has called ďthe most touching expression of divine love in the entire bibleĒ:

 

 

††††† Can a mother forget her infant,

††††† be without tenderness for the child of her womb?

 

That is not sentimentality, it is describing one of the strongest bonds in creation, bred in us through centuries of evolution.

 

But he goes on to say that even if she should forget, ďI will never forget you.Ē I will never forget you. The reason we can put aside all worry is that there is an unbreakable link between Godís love and our seeking of the kingdom.

 

Itís not just a matter of some abstraction like ĎGodís providence.í Our God loves to see us completing the work of creation, the reason God creates in the first placeóto extend love, and just relationships and peace to everyone of Godís children.

 

We are worth more than the birds or the lilies of the field. We are meant to enjoy divine life in the company of Jesus. If we seek, if our deepest passion is Godís glory.

 

Amen?