Reflections on the readings for Sunday 2 March 2014 [Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time]
Isaiah 49:14-15; Psalm 62:2-3, 6-9; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34 (find the readings here)
Our experience of life can be scary, confusing, anxiety-provoking. It can be like a gale that threatens to blow to smithereens all we have worked for, or a flood that carries away that which matters most to us. Often its not quite as dramatic as that – more like a vague discontent or a niggling fear for the future. Sometimes life feels like a race leading nowhere, busy, busy busy and we forget exactly why. How wonderful it would be to find the still centre, to live from a place of grounded-ness which anchors our lives. Psalm 62 speaks of this as ‘resting in God’.
In times of crisis, its is almost inevitable that we ask: “Where is God in all this?” The prophet Isaiah gives voice to this sense of despair on the part of God’s people. But he goes on to assert that God will never abandon us, however God-forsaken we feel. To begin to know that with our heart as well as our head would be to move toward the still centre which is unshaken by the storm. But how can we find this place of trustful resting in God?
Perhaps what is needed is a singleness of focus. When we are pulled in different directions, chasing mutually conflicting priorities, it will be impossible to find the still centre, even in good times. Jesus warns us that we cannot serve two masters. We could be working for the goal of financial and personal security, or of being popular or respected, or of being seen to ‘have arrived’, or simply being able to survive without needing to depend upon other people. But if any of these dictate our life commitments and choices, then in chaotic times we will lose our equilibrium and become vulnerable to storm damage. Jesus suggests another way – to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God’. This isn’t about being so heavenly minded we’re no earthly good. It’s about trusting God and living our of that trust. It is about living in the light of what we understand God to be doing in the world. It’s about simplifying our goals, sharpening our focus. The effect that Jesus points to is that it will enable us to stop worrying. It won’t simply allow us to escape the pressures of life, but it will give us the bigger perspective in which to place them, the centre around which everything else can find its proper place.
St Paul embodies this Kingdom focus in action. He has chosen his ‘master’ – he is the servant of Christ. His only concern is to faithfully live that out, something he does in a surprisingly self-forgetful way. He doesn’t have to worry about what other people think, because he’s not answerable to them anyway. He’s living to please an audience of One. But neither does he pass judgement on himself. He just gets on with living in good conscience, reflective enough to be living with integrity, but not so introspective that he is always second-guessing his motives and worrying about whether he is really seeking God’s kingdom. If God is at the centre then our ego can’t be, not even an ego that is trying to be good and holy. The ‘master’ that Jesus warns us against is mammon, which is wealth and a desire to be rich. The master that Paul refuses to serve is the opinion of others.
The antidote to worry is to learn to trust. When we find the still centre and learn to rest in God, then lack of worry isn’t naïve optimism or a head-in-the-sand approach to our very real crises and difficulties. It is confidence in the God who is bigger than our problems.