“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow; it only saps today of its joy.”
— Leo Buscaglia
The readings of today IS A STRONG CHALLENGE to the lifestyle that prevails in most of our cities in the so-called developed world and in many parts of the developing world too. Jesus puts it very bluntly: “You cannot at the same time be the slave of God and money (and this includes all the things that equate to money, like property, cars, clothes, foreign holidays, etc.)” As such, he does not criticise the having of things. What is in question is our attitude towards them, our being in thrall to them, having our lives controlled by them and, above all, being unable to share them with those in real need. Also in question is the false illusion that, if we have money and power, we have control of our lives. We are secure. Nothing could be further from the truth. So ultimately Jesus is teaching us that our only real security is total trust in God’s love for us.
Money primarily is a means of exchange by which we can provide for the needs of our life, whatever those needs are at any given time. The problem begins when money and the pursuit of money become an end in itself, “I want to be rich.” Which soon becomes “I have to be rich”. And, when I am rich, when I have lots of things, I will go to any length to hold on to them. It is amazing how very rich people keep being driven to make more till they have more than they could possible spend. There was the case of a dollar billionaire in an Asian country who went to jail for insider trading on the stock exchange in order to make even more than he already had. And, after he came out of jail, he was worth more than twice than when he went in. When a very rich man died, someone asked how much he had left. “Every red cent,” was the answer. “You can’t take it with you,” as the cliche‚ goes.
- One day John Wesley was walking with a troubled man who expressed his doubt as to the goodness of God. He said, “I do not know what I shall do with all this worry and trouble.” At the same moment Wesley saw a cow looking over a stone wall. “Do you know,” asked Wesley, “why that cow is looking over the wall?” “No,” said the man who was worried. Wesley said, “The cow is looking over the wall because she cannot see through it. That is what you must do with your wall of trouble—look over it and avoid it.” Faith enables us to look past our circumstances and focus on Christ.
- An average person’s anxiety is focused on :40% — things that will never happen
30% — things about the past that can’t be changed
12% — things about criticism by others, mostly untrue
10% — about health, which gets worse with stress
8% — about real problems that will be faced
- Don’t Worry: Years ago, I was enthralled as I listened to a pastor who for several years had faithfully served the church. His executive responsibilities had taken him all over this country. As he concluded his message, he told of one of the most frightening, yet thought-provoking, experiences of his life.He had been on a long flight from one place to another. The first warning of the approaching problems came when the sign on the airplane flashed on: Fasten your seat belts. Then, after a while, a calm voice said, “We shall not be serving the beverages at this time as we are expecting a little turbulence. Please be sure your seat belt is fastened.”
As he looked around the aircraft, it became obvious that many of the passengers were becoming apprehensive. Later, the voice of the announcer said, “We are so sorry that we are unable to serve the meal at this time. The turbulence is still ahead of us.”
Then the storm broke. The ominous cracks of thunder could be heard even above the roar of the engines. Lightening lit up the darkening skies, and within moments that great plane was like a cork tossed around on a celestial ocean. One moment the airplane was lifted on terrific currents of air; the next, it dropped as if it were about to crash.
The pastor confessed that he shared the discomfort and fear of those around him. He said, “As I looked around the plane, I could see that nearly all the passengers were upset and alarmed. Some were praying. The future seemed ominous and many were wondering if they would make it through the storm.
Then, I suddenly saw a little girl. Apparently the storm meant nothing to her. She had tucked her feet beneath her as she sat on her seat; she was reading a book and every thing within her small world was calm and orderly. Sometimes she closed her eyes, then she would read again; then she would straighten her legs, but worry and fear were not in her world. When the plane was being buffeted by the terrible storm when it lurched this way and that, as it rose and fell with frightening severity,when all the adults were scared half to death, that marvelous child was completely composed and unafraid.” The minister could hardly believe his eyes.
It was not surprising therefore, that when the plane finally reached its destination and all the passengers were hurrying to disembark,our pastor lingered to speak to the girl whom he had watched for such a long time. Having commented about the storm and behavior of the plane, he asked why she had not been afraid.
The child replied, “‘Cause my Daddy’s the pilot, and he’s taking me home.”
There are many kinds of storms that buffet us:
• Domestic, and…
Many other storms can easily and quickly darken our skies and throw our plane into apparently uncontrollable movement. We have all known such times, and let us be honest and confess, it is much easier to be at rest when our feet are on the ground than when we are being tossed about a darkened sky.
Let us remember… Our Father is the Pilot. He is in control and taking us home… so Don’t Worry.
- Emperor Frederick the Great (1712-86) of Germany, once visited a town school in Branderburg. When he entered into a classroom, the teacher was giving a geography lesson to the children. The emperor called on one of the boys and asked if he knew where his town was located.“In Prussia,” the child replied.
“And where is Prussia?” continued the emperor.
“In the world.”
“And the world?”
The boy thought for a moment, but at last looking right at the emperor, replied:
“The world is in the hands of God.”
This is an answer from a child; but how true it is – ‘The world is in the hands of God.’ It means that we all are in God’s hands and are totally dependent upon him. That is to say that we are under God’s loving providence and that he greatly loves us, takes care of us and protects us; He is always with us and never abandons us.
EVEN IF A MOTHER FORGETS HER INFANT, I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU.
In the First Reading of today, prophet Isaiah tells the people of Israel, who are in exile and are crying out in despair that God has forsaken them, that God loves them tremendously, always cares for them and never forgets them – “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” Here perhaps is the most touching expression of Divine Love in the entire Bible. We see God under the tender image of a mother, and the people of God under the image of a nursing infant. How could a mother not be compassionate to her child who is hungry. God is like that, Isaiah says. He also makes it clear that God’s love is ever greater than the image presented. His love surpasses that of a mother for her child. God has always been faithful to His chosen people; He would never forget them, nor forsake them. Isaiah’s message is that we are to trust God even when the days are darkest, for God does not abandon His people.
BEING TRUSTWORTHY STEWARDS:
Paul in today’s Second Reading gives us another reason for not being obsessed with our future security. Here in the present, we simply have too much to do. We are, he says, Christ’s servants. And as such, responsibilities have been entrusted to us, mainly to build up the Body of Christ in our Christian communities and to spread the Gospel message of God’s love far and wide. “What is expected of stewards is that each one should be found worthy of [God’s] trust.” In other words, we are not being trustworthy stewards if, like the man in the parable, we take the gift that God has given us and bury it in the ground for fear it should be lost. No. If large sums of money or goods come our way, we are not to store them away. Our gifts are to used here and now and every day. We should simply be too busy doing God’s work to have time to worry about the non-existent future. As the saying goes, “Let go and let God”.
The Gospel: The Main Point — Negatively and Positively
Everybody can see plainly that the main point of this text is that disciples of Jesus should not be anxious. Verse 25: “Do not be anxious about your life.” Verse 31: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’” Verse 34: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.” So one thing should ring in your ears when you leave this morning, namely, “Jesus does not want me to be anxious.”
But that is just the negative way of stating the main point of this passage. There is a positive way found in verse 33; namely, instead of being anxious, “Seek first God’s kingdom.” In other words, when you think about your life or your food or your clothes or your spouse or your job or your mission, don’t fret about them. Instead make God the king in that affair and in that moment, and hand over the situation to his kingly power and do his righteous will with the confidence that he will work for you and meet all your needs. To seek the kingship of God first in every affair and every moment of life is a thrilling way to live. It’s full of freedom and peace and joy and adventure — and hardship; and it’s worth it all. If you believe in the kingship of your heavenly Father, you do not need to be anxious about anything. Let’s look at some of the reasons why.
Eight Reasons Not to Be Anxious
I see at least eight reasons Jesus gives why his disciples should not be anxious. Time is short, but I will try to mention them all. Who knows which one might be perfectly crafted to meet your special need?
1. Life Is More Than Food and Clothing
The first is given in verse 25. “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on.” Why? “Because life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.” What does this mean?
Why do we tend to get anxious about food and clothing? Because there are three things that we would lose if we did not have food and clothing. First, we would lose some pleasures. Food tastes good. It is pleasurable to eat. Second, we would lose some human praise and admiring glances if we didn’t have nice clothes. Third, we would lose long life if we had no food at all or weren’t protected from the cold with warm clothes. So we get anxious about food and clothing because we don’t want to lose physical pleasures or human praise or length of life.
And to this Jesus responds: If you are gripped by anxiety over these things, you have lost sight of the greatness of life. Life was not given primarily for physical pleasures, but for something greater — the enjoyment of God. Life was not given primarily for the approval of man, but for something greater — the approval of God. Life was not even given primarily for extension on this earth, but for something greater — eternity with God in the age to come.
We ought not to be anxious about food and clothing because food and clothing cannot provide the great things of life — the enjoyment of God, the pursuit of his gracious favor, the hope of eternity in his presence. We get anxious about food and clothing to the same degree that we lose sight of the great purposes of a God-centered life.
2. The Birds of the Air Work and Count on God
The second reason Jesus gives for not being anxious is in verse 26: “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?” What we see when we look at the birds is not a lesson in laziness. They dig their worms and snatch their bugs and pad their nests with strings and leaves. But Jesus says it is God that feeds them. What we see when we look at the birds is a creature who does not act as though God is only a merciful provider for today but won’t be tomorrow. Birds don’t anxiously horde things for the day of God’s
demise. They go about their work as though when the sun comes up tomorrow, God will still be God.
How much more, then, should we reckon with the reality and mercy of God tomorrow, since we are not brute birds, but children of our heavenly Father. The biggest difference between a disciple of Jesus and a bird is that we have the capacity of honoring God by our faith. And God values the exercise of our faith more than he values birds. So we ought not to be anxious because the birds have taught us that God can be counted on to work for us tomorrow just as much as today.
3. Anxiety Doesn’t Get You Anywhere
The third reason not to be anxious is in verse 27: “And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” The argument is very pragmatic: anxiety doesn’t get you anywhere. It doesn’t do you any good. Whatever problem is causing you to feel anxious, you can be sure your anxiety will not lessen the problem. It will only make you miserable while you try to deal with it. So don’t be anxious. It’s useless.
4. God Delights to Adorn Things
The fourth reason Jesus gives for not being anxious is in verses 28–30 — this time from the lilies. “And why are you anxious about 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 arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
When you look at a lily, which has no will of its own to labor and spin, yet adorned with beautiful form and color, if you believe in God, you must draw at least this one conclusion: God delights to adorn things. But if his delight finds expression in adorning grass, that’s here today and gone tomorrow, then surely his delight in adornment will express itself in how he clothes his children!
But someone may protest: God has not adorned me! He has not adorned the poor Christians of our land or overseas. Are you sure? Very few of us are dressed like Solomon. True. But we couldn’t do our work if we were. I would only ask this question: Where have you ever seen a disciple of Jesus who did not have the adornment he needed to do what God had called him to do? Be careful. Do not measure the perfection of God’s provision by some standard below his calling. And do not forget that when we have finished carrying our crosses on torn shoulders in this life like Jesus, there will be kingly robes for us all.
5. Unbelievers Are Anxious About Food and Clothing
The fifth and sixth reasons why a follower of Jesus shouldn’t be anxious are given in verse 32: We shouldn’t be anxious about what we eat or drink or wear because “the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Anxiety about the things of this world puts us on the same level with the world of unbelievers. It shows that we are really very much like the world in what makes us happy. And that ought not to be.
6. Your Heavenly Father Knows Your Needs
It also shows that we don’t think our Father in heaven knows our needs. Or perhaps we don’t think he has the heart of a loving Father. Anxiety shows that we are too close to the world and too far from God. So don’t be anxious — the world has nothing eternal to offer, and your loving heavenly Father knows your needs now and forever.
7. God Will Carry Your Burdens If You Seek First His Honor
The seventh reason not to be anxious, in verse 33, is that when you seek the kingdom of God first, he works for you and provides all your needs. The best reason to stop being anxious is that when you do, God starts being anxious for you. It’s such a foolish thing to insist on carrying anxious burdens which God has promised to carry for us when we put his kingly honor first in everything we do.
8. Tomorrow Will Be Anxious for Itself
The last argument in verse 34 says, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” In other words, God has appointed to each day its portion of pleasure and trouble. And as your days so shall your strength be. So don’t misappropriate God’s allotted troubles for tomorrow. Don’t bring them forward into today in the form of anxiety. Believe that God will be God tomorrow.
Jesus Does Not Want His Followers to Be Anxious. The main point of all this is clear and unmistakable: Jesus does not want his followers to be anxious. He does not secure his kingdom by keeping his subjects in a state of worry. On the contrary, according to verse 33, the more primary, the more central his kingship becomes in our lives, the less anxiety we will have. Jesus came, lived, died, rose from the dead, in order that he might reign as King over an anxiety-free people.
So come to Jesus. Forsake all other allegiances. Take your vow of loyalty to the King of kings. And seek first in all you do to make known his kingship over your life. This and this alone is the way to freedom from anxiety.
Trust in God
Linked to our attitude to material things, Jesus further urges greater trust and confidence in God’s care for us. For his part, Jesus points to nature. Nature lives always in the present. It never shows any anxiety about the future. Yet it is covered with a staggering beauty. Solomon in all his glory cannot match the lilies of the field. But, if God lavishes such beauty on things which quickly wither away, how much care will he not lavish on his own children?
Jesus urges us to liberate ourselves from worry and anxiety about our body and material things such as food and clothing. To be concerned about food because right now I am very hungry and do not have anything to eat is very different from worrying whether I will have food next month; to be anxious about what is happening when I am in intensive care is very different from wondering how long my health will hold up in the coming years; to be fretting because I have no money to pay my rent with the landlord knocking at the door is very different from wondering whether I will ever be rich. Worry and anxiety about the future are a waste of time and energy yet we indulge in them so much. They are a waste of time and energy because they are about things which do not exist and very possibly may never exist. As Fr Tony de Mello used to say, quoting a Buddhist axiom: “Why worry? If you don’t worry, you die; if you do worry, you die. So, why worry?” So we are invited to look at the birds of the air and the flowers in the field. They do nothing except be themselves and God takes care of them. And how beautiful they are! When their time comes they pass away. We are often so busy regretting the past or worrying about the future that we never get to enjoy life in the here and now.
Be Present Now
To be fully alive, Fr Tony de Mello also used to advise: “Be yourself. Be here. Be now.” Enjoyment and happiness are only in the present. Nowhere else. If we keep looking forward or looking back we will never find happiness. It is right here in our grasp at every moment of every day. Again as Fr Tony used to say, “You have everything you need right now to be happy.”
Do we believe that? How our lives would be transformed if only we could really believe it! Jesus puts the same thing today in different words, “Do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself.” God is only to be found in the here and now; he is always available.
Three rules of turning worry into success:
1. Accept the Unchangeable. Everything that has happened in your life to this minute is unchangeable. It’s history. The greatest waste of energy is in looking back at missed opportunities, lamenting past events, grudge collecting, getting even, harboring ill will, and any vengeful thinking. Success is the only acceptable form of revenge. By forgiving your trespassers, you become free to concentrate on going forward with your life and succeeding in spite of your detractors. You will live a rewarding and fulfilling life. Your enemies, on the other hand, will forever wonder how you went on to become so successful without them and in the shadow of their doubts.
2. Change the Changeable. What you can change is your reaction to what others say and do. And you can control your own thoughts and actions by dwelling on desired results instead of the penalties of failure. The only real control you have in life is that of your immediate thought and action. Since most of what we do is a reflex, subconscious habit, it is wise not to act on emotional impulse. In personal relations, it is better to wait a moment until reason has the opportunity to compete with your emotions.
3. Avoid the Unacceptable. Go out of your way to get out of the way of potentially dangerous behaviors and environments.…When there are loud, obnoxious people next to you at a restaurant or club, change tables, or locations. Also, be cautious of personal relationships developed via the Internet. With the massive number of individuals surfing the net, the number of predators increases in like proportion. Always be on the alert for potentially dangerous situations involving your health, personal safety, financial speculation and emotional relationships.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.