Three local college students were tragically killed last evening when their SUV slid out of control on an ice caked highway and was broadsided by an oncoming truck. I am still trying to reconcile a self-congratulatory report that Wells Fargo was the nation’s most profitable bank in 2013 with the news this week that 203 local Wells employees are losing their jobs because of a downturn in mortgage refinancing (remember the old business model where people were more important than profits?). Last night I bought a sympathy card to send to the family of a woman who died at age 43 from mental illness.
Such troubling stories provide the context from which I read the Gospel we’ll hear in church tomorrow: “…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 clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Excuse me! Does anyone here remember the Great Recession of 2008-9, Hurricane Sandy or see the blood-letting in Syria or the Ukraine?
It’s so easy – and futile – to get caught up in subjecting our Gospel to such reality testing and miss the point. Obviously, there must be something more going on! The only sense I can make of it is the complete opposite of simply dismissing the text as irrelevant. Rather, we need to go deeper, think more broadly and look more carefully.
First, remember the big picture! It’s important to remember that Jesus’ teaching is given as part of his Sermon on the Mount. We can “proof-text” virtually any opinion we want if we simply pull a verse out of context in the Bible. We can misunderstand, if not misinterpret, Scripture’s meaning if we hear stories isolated from their original setting. Sermon on the Mount… Jesus is addressing those who are quite aware of their need, anxieties and vulnerability. He points out that we cannot live with divided hearts.
Jesus invites any who would listen to a life – a full, human life – of discipleship. Rather than an admonition, Jesus expresses empathy, understanding: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Therefore I tell you…” For personality types like me, we might not even make it to the either/or, God or money part. Serve? I want to be in control and pretend that I can go from disposing of one challenge after another. It takes me a while to allow Jesus’ words to penetrate my hardened self-sufficiency. What a burden it is to think I need to be God! Jesus’ counsel: “Give yourself a break – don’t pretend!”
Perhaps the school of hard-knocks is the only teaching that will bust through human arrogance and self-sufficiency. Last week I painfully endured a PBS special on the manifold scandals in the Catholic Church, clergy sex abuse being only one. As reprehensible as the facts appear to be, this is the Church I love. I am ultimately hopeful because hard-knocks have taught me this is likely the excruciating price the Catholic Church must pay to break the shameful perversion of clericalism!
I pray this weekend that our bishops truly hear the Word of God: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and [power]. Therefore I tell you…” Perhaps this needs to be one of every Catholic’s primary prayer intentions during Lent.
We should remember Jesus is now preaching to us this weekend – inviting we who are quite aware of our needs, anxieties, painful tragedies as well as our primordial will to power – to even deeper discipleship. Jesus points out what our lives confirm — we cannot live with divided hearts! We have ultimate confidence because we may rest assured Jesus’ heart is singular in proclaiming a God who is caring, compassionate and, thankfully, the one in control.