Gospel for the Eighth Sunday (March 2 2014)
Notes on the Gospel
“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worryabout your life, what you will eat or what you will 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 of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worryingadd a single hour to your span of life?And why do you worryabout clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
“So do not worryabout tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worriesof its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:24-34 – NRSV)
There is a similar text in Luke 12:22–31.
The text is part of the Sermon on the Mount.
The Greek verb μεριμνάω (merimnao) used six times in this text. The NRSV – and most other modern translations – translates it with the English word “worry”. It suggests a way of thinking that is anxious and troubled – a way of thinking that is self-focussed.
We find the same Greek word used in Luke 10:41 when Jesus rebukes Martha: “…. you are worried (μεριμνάω) and distracted by many things.”In the previous verse another similar Greek verb is used when Luke says “Martha was distracted (περισπάω (perispao)) by her many tasks.”
This command by Jesus – “do not worry” – is one of many given in the Sermon on the Mount. Other commands include, “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (5:39), “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (5:44), “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them” (6:1), “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven” (6:8), “Do not judge” (7:1), “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine” (7:6), “do to others as you would have them do to you” (7:12), “Enter through the narrow gate” (7:13) and “Beware of false prophets” (7:15). Clearly not all of these commands have the same importance. Not all of them fall into the same category.
Our textI tell you, do not worry about your life.
What is actually being commanded here?
Sometimes worry is a healthy reaction to a life situation – as when our children are in trouble. Sometimes people are not worried simply because they do not care. This is hardly a virtue.
Sometimes individuals are subject to anxieties that they simply cannot control. Saying to such a person, “do not worry”, will probably increase their worry. It is like saying to someone, “Now I don’t want you to think of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.” They’re going to think of the Sydney Harbour Bridge!
The context here might suggest that the real issue is actually not worry but self-centredness. And this is at once a moral issue and a psychological issue. The two are, more often than not, tangled.
Shirley Sugerman writes of the psychological issue:
"We love out of leisure from self-concern, and we are always self-concerned unless we know that someone other than ourself is prepared to maintain the significance of our being." (Shirley Sugerman, Sin and Madness: Studies in Narcissism, Westminster Press, 54f.)
The moral issue is a little more complex and gets even more complex if we ignore the psychological part. Our faith calls us to accept the promise: “I am with you!” (see Exodus 3:12). The Christian life is a God-centred life. Centred on God, we experience Julian of Norwich’s insight as just so true:
“And so our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts which I could raise, saying most comfortingly: I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well; and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well.” (Julian of Norwich, Showings, Chapter 31. See also Chapters 27 & 32.)
The response to self-centredness is not wilful other-centredness. It is first and foremost a matter of listening. In listening we will eventually experience a twofold awareness. First of all it is an awareness that I am being self-centred. This is not a judgment and certainly not a condemnation. It is a compassionate awareness of truth. By facing this truth and submitting to this truth I will be set free.
Secondly it is an awareness that God is love and God is with me. By listening – yes, even in the midst of my worrying – I come to taste God’s love. In that taste is our centring in God. In that centring is the cessation of our worrying.
This is not magic. It is a life journey.
Michael Whelan SM