Tuesday, February 21, 2017

8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Our readings this week remind us of God’s ever-caring, ever-loving nature.  But sometimes we spend so much time worrying about our own lives and the future, we don’t take the time to “stop and smell the roses.”  We focus so much attention focusing on our physical and fiscal needs that we end up ignoring our spiritual needs and those other parts of our lives that, in the end, are more important.

Isaiah 49:14-15
Psalm 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Matthew 6:24-34

Our first reading is a very short passage from Isaiah.  Here the prophet (2nd Isaiah, or Deutero-Isaiah) tells about how God could never abandon us.  Here Isaiah, in one of his most poetic visuals, equates God’s love with that of a of a mother and her infant.  We can’t possibly think of a caring mother forgetting about the child she carried, but, Isaiah states, even if she were, God could not.  Isaiah’s intent is to remind Israel, currently in Exile in Babylon, that like a loving mother, God has not forsaken them.  Our Psalm complements this passage by reminding us that we should, “Rest in God alone, my soul.”  That our salvation still lies in the caring embrace of the Lord.

As an interesting sidebar to our first reading, I should also note how Isaiah had no problem using a feminine image, that of a mother and child, to explain the Lord’s love for his people.  In fact, Hebrew Scripture has many similar examples.  It should serve as a reminder that while our Christian tradition has embraced an image of God as “father,” we should also remember that God’s nature is so far beyond our own that we should be cautious when it comes to assigning gender to the Almighty.

Our Gospel from Matthew, continuing our study of the Sermon on the Mount, complements our first reading by reminding us we shouldn’t spend so much time worrying about taking care of ourselves, but instead know that God will take care of us… that is, those that serve him.  Jesus uses very poetic terms, to make his point, but that point also comes with a warning:  that we cannot serve two masters:  God and “mammon” (mammon being an Aramaic word meaning wealth or property).  Jesus is trying to give us practical advice here… that our efforts are misspent if we focus too much on the things of this world and of our own troubles.  That we should instead be focused on reaching out to others, and in turn God will make sure we are cared for.

It is also important to note that Matthew continues to employ the use of hyperbole in this passage in order to make his point and get to the truth.  While it is surely prudent to make provisions for our physical needs, both now and for the future, neither should we allow ourselves to be consumed by this.  Even the squirrels store nuts for the winter.  But here Jesus is trying to show us a simpler, more fulfilling way of living.  I like to think of this as his call to frugality… that perhaps a leaner lifestyle will help us better focus on what’s really important.

Our second reading concludes our stud of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.  Here we are reminded that we are called to be servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  This should be our primary concern.  Further, Paul advises that no one is in a position to judge.  Not him, not anyone in the Corinthian community, only God can judge, at the appointed time.  He reminds us that God knows our hearts, and it is the motivation of our hearts on which we will be judged.

Final Thoughts:
This Sunday marks the last Sunday before entering the Season of Lent.  Throughout this entire Winter stretch of Ordinary time we’ve been listening to some of the most profound teachings Jesus provides from his Sermon on the Mount.  In a way, it serves as the perfect launch pad for Lent.  Lent, after all, is a season of penitent reflection.  Our 40 days in the desert to consider how well we’re living up to our call to follow Christ.  Our readings, this week and for the past several weeks have taught us what’s important:  Blessed are the poor.  Love your neighbor.  You cannot serve both God and mammon.  These are some of the most profound teachings, and we’ve spent time digging into what they mean.  But now with Lent just around the corner, it’s a good time to reflect back on these teachings and ask ourselves how well we’ve lived up to these ideals.

We are all too familiar with the tradition of “giving something up” for Lent.  But in our readings for this Sunday before Lent, we are reminded that we shouldn’t focus on the mammon of our lives, but instead honestly assess how we are living up to what Christ taught us.  Instead of looking for something to give up for Lent, I suggest looking for something you can ADD during Lent.  Maybe spending extra time in prayer.  Maybe attending daily Mass.  Maybe taking opportunities to reach out to the poor and those in need.  Maybe it’s taking time to clean out your closet or garage.  Lent is a time to assess our own worthiness to enter the Kingdom.  Our readings these past weeks have given us a roadmap…now it’s time to plan how we intend to get there.

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