Saturday, February 26, 2011

"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."
Matt. 6:24-34

This reading goes along well with the Gospel from last Sunday, in that this reading provides the method by which we can fulfill the command from the last one. If we renounce our claim to the things that literally and figuratively surround us, then we can begin to understand how to "turn the other cheek" and respond peacefully to insult and injury. We protect our possessions because we do not think that we can survive without them. We spend our money on insurance and security systems because we think that they make us safe, and yet we forget that we could be dead in the morning and our hold on our possessions would vanish with our dying breath. This isn't to say that possessions aren't useful or that we shouldn't have them, but rather that we shouldn't allow ourselves to become obsessed with them to the point where we give over our happiness to them and make them idols. This brings us back to the beginning of the reading, where Jesus says that we must choose between God and Mammon. When we focus too much on keeping what we have then we turn it into an idol and forget about our worship of God. What we must do is put our possessions into our own service while remembering that they are not important and that we can do without them. Only then will we be willing to embrace the radical peace that God leads us to without consideration of what must be left behind.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"You have heard that it was said, 'An
eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
But I say to you, offer no resistance
to one who is evil. When someone strikes
you on (your) right cheek, turn the
other one to him as well. If anyone
wants to go to law with you over your
tunic, hand him your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service
for one mile, go with him for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you, and do
not turn your back on one who wants to
borrow. You have heard that it was said,
'You shall love your neighbor and hate
your enemy.' But I say to you, love
your enemies, and pray for those who
persecute you, that you may be children
of your heavenly Father, for he makes
his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and
the unjust. For if you love those who
love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that? Do not the
pagans do the same? So be perfect, just
s your heavenly Father is perfect."
Matthew 5:38-48

These are difficult words to hear, even more difficult to follow. Who among us can actually say that we've done these things? We are accustomed to defending ourselves against attack, and most of us would say that self-defense is justified. Still, we cannot deny that Christ seems to be pointing us in a different direction. I think that this passage points to a movement toward total dependence upon God, toward an end to concern about safety and security. People in modern society, even those who are religious, are always looking toward securing themselves and their families against loss and destruction. Think about all the different kinds of insurance that exist, all the products that we buy that are designed to protect us from threats both natural and man-made. We pray to God for blessings, and yet our lives seem designed around the idea that we're alone and can't rely on His aid in times of trouble. Perhaps it's just human nature to live like this, to rely on ourselves and on those things that we can see and touch rather than putting our hope in that which is beyond our grasp and understanding. Still, this is exactly what Jesus is asking us to do in today's Gospel reading. The only way that we can live up to this calling is through the grace of God, because we certainly won't do it on our own.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Again you have heard that it was
said to your ancestors, 'Do not
take a false oath, but make good
to the Lord all that you vow.' But
I say to you, do not swear at all;
not by heaven, for it is God's
throne; nor by the earth, for it
is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem,
for it is the city of the great
King. Do not swear by your head,
for you cannot make a single hair
white or black. Let your 'Yes' mean
'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.'
Anything more is from the evil one."
Matt. 5:33-37

Our modern society is built around the idea that a person's word is not to be trusted. Everything that we do requires a signature, a password, or some other assurance that we aren't pretending to be someone we're not or trying to do something that we shouldn't. How much better would our world be if every Christian took these words from the Gospel of Matthew to heart? Certainly it could serve as an opportunity for evangelization in a world that has forgotten how to trust. We always hear from non-believers about how they love Jesus but don't believe that the faithful actually live out his message. Can we deny that there are many cases in which their accusations are well-founded, that much of the time we do indeed fail to live as followers of Christ? If we actually listened to Christ and embraced honesty in our lives, perhaps those who ignore Jesus would see him in us and find the grace to accept him.