FEBRUARY 26TH, 2017: EIGHTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me;
my LORD has forgotten me."
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you.
Brothers and sisters:
Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Now it is of course required of stewards
that they be found trustworthy.
It does not concern me in the least
that I be judged by you or any human tribunal;
I do not even pass judgment on myself;
I am not conscious of anything against me,
but I do not thereby stand acquitted;
the one who judges me is the Lord.
Therefore do not make any judgment before the appointed time,
until the Lord comes,
for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness
and will manifest the motives of our hearts,
and then everyone will receive praise from God.
Jesus said to his disciples:
"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."
I was part of a prison retreat team some years ago, when I noticed a handwritten poster on one of the conference room’s walls. It carried a simple message: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I, God, will never forget you.” One of the residents had obviously been deeply moved by today’s Deutero-Isaiah passage.
This unnamed 6th century BCE prophet confronted many difficulties during his Babylonian ministry. One of the most serious revolved around the captives’ belief they’d been deserted by Yahweh. They had good reason to come to that conclusion: they and their families had been in Babylon for over 50 years. Any hope of returning to Israel had disappeared years ago. Besides, at that point in salvation history, most Jews believed Yahweh – like all other gods – was territorial. He was God only in Israel. Take one step across the country’s border and you had to deal with another country’s gods and goddesses. Why trust a God who was helpless in Babylon?
But since Deutero-Isaiah was a proponent of the novel theology that Yahweh was the one and only God, he was certain Yahweh was just as powerful in downtown Babylon as he was in downtown Jerusalem. He was convinced Yahweh was more one with the captive Israelites languishing in a foreign land than a mother with the child at her breast.
Five hundred years later, Jesus of Nazareth confronted a similar problem. As we know from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, he demanded some radical morality from his followers. They were to treat others in completely unique forgiving and loving ways. Anyone who dared follow his radical lead logically feared God would leave them in the lurch. After they generously gave everything of themselves to those around them, what would happen to them? That seems to be why Matthew’s Jesus spends so much time assuring them of God’s care and concern.
He tries to convince them not to worry about what they’ll eat, drink or wear. They’re not to fudge on their imitation of him. “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” In other words, when you begin to notice God acting effectively in your lives, you’ll also begin to notice God taking care of those lives. “Don’t worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” Commit yourself to living day by day.
Paul takes us even deeper into God’s care. In today’s I Corinthians passage he reflects on questions about his own ministry, not certain whether he’s failed or succeeded in what the risen Jesus has called him to do. As a “steward of the ministries of God,” he can only keep trying to be trustworthy in carrying out his mission. He constantly works at truthfully sharing God’s plan with those around him, no matter the results or consequences.
The Apostle doesn’t seem to be losing any sleep at night, second-guessing what he’s done or hasn’t done. He’s convinced only the risen Jesus can make such a judgement, and he/she’s not expected to do that until the Parousia.
I presume one of the reasons Paul doesn’t worry about success or failure is because, as he once told the Galatians, he’s experienced the risen Jesus. And that encounter originally took place while he was still a sinner – a persecutor of Jesus’ disciples. If the risen Jesus was caring for him while he was in that state, then he/she must be near to and concerned for him and all of us on a level that goes far beyond even the love of our parents.