Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, February 27, 2011:

First Reading: Isaiah 49:8-16a

Psalm: Psalm 131

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34

Last week’s Gospel was likely to have readers dismiss Jesus as a idealistic pacifist as some sort—even if you see the Gospel of turning the other cheek as a resistance text, as I do, Jesus still comes across as not understanding the realities of life. Last week’s Gospel might have moved some of us to want to discuss just war theory with Jesus.

This week’s Gospel is even worse. This week’s Gospel likely makes many of us want to shake Jesus. I imagine saying, “Don’t you understand? We need money to survive. We need to worry about the future because our government certainly isn’t. We don’t know what the future will bring and the only way we’ll feel safe is if we have pots of money. Preferably buried in the back yard, given the state of my investment portfolio lately.”

And Jesus would likely smile and say, “My point exactly.”

I’ve heard many a preacher talk about this text and the text where Jesus tells us to give away all we own. People will tie themselves into knots trying to explain how Jesus didn’t really mean what he said. Of course, we don’t have to give away everything, just our excess. Of course Jesus doesn’t mean that we can’t accumulate wealth—of course we can—how else will we have enough excess to give away?

But what if Jesus was serious? What if we can really only have one master? Who will we choose: God, our families, our careers, our significant others, our houses, our pets? Who/what owns us?

And what about that part of the Gospel that tells us not to worry? Seriously, Jesus? Stop worrying? I’m more likely to give away all I own than to stop worrying.

Jesus would likely be silent, waiting for me to think through all the implications.

How much time do we spend in any given day worrying? How much time do we spend fretting about events that might never happen? Is worry our master? Does fretfulness give us an essential identity?

We can’t control as much as we wish we could. It’s an essential fact of life, and we all react to that fact differently. Some of us become super laid-back. Some of us become control freaks.

Jesus calls us on this behavior. We’re not in charge. In the words of John the Baptist, we are not the Messiah. Besides, worrying never bought us an extra day of life. In short, worrying doesn’t solve anything.

I think about my own life, about all the fretting I’ve done, only to be blindsided by something I never saw coming. You’d think I’d learn my lesson and give up worrying. But instead I fret ever more fiercely.

If I’m honest, this command to stop worrying might be the hardest for me. Other people have trouble with forgiveness or with generosity. The thought of giving up fretting makes me very anxious.

I remember a commercial for an anti-anxiety drug that said, “It’s you, only without all the anxiety,” a thought which immediately plunged me into anxiety. Who would I be without my fretting?

A woman with considerably more time freed up.

So, what do we do with all the free time we suddenly have if we give up worrying and fretting? Well, we’ll have plenty of time to help those around us. We’ll have plenty of time to focus on relationships that matter. We’ll have plenty of time to build our relationship with God.

In this gospel, we see once again the radical message of Jesus. Dr. Alyce M. McKenzie sums up the passage this way: “In this short passage alone, I am being pushed to give up one of my most cherished occupations, worry, in favor of trusting God for the basics of daily life. I am being pushed to consider that my other loyalties are in conflict with my loyalty to God (6:24). Jesus' teachings are digging tools that undercut the foundation of my house. My priority, my life's project has been to build a comfortable present and a secure future for me and my family. Jesus wants to undermine it and eventually, to replace it with radical, risky trust in God and the mission of seeking God first, confident that other matters will fall in place. If I give up a preoccupation with anxiety and security, it would seem like I would have time and energy for seeing to the needs of others around me. These teachings take something away to free me for something more. In that sense they are just the beginning.” (see her whole exegesis on this week’s Gospel here).

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