2-26-2017 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mar 1, 2017
8th Sunday in OT / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Some of your will remember a movie that came out some years ago, the Lilies of the Field (1963), starring Sidney Poitier. The movie tells the story of a group of nuns who escape Communist eastern Europe and arrive in the southwest of the United States. They have virtually no money, but they have a small piece of property on which they hope to build a church and a school. They ask God to help them—in fact, they are confident that God will help them—and along comes a traveling handyman name Homer Smith (Poitier). The nuns see Homer as the answer to their prayers, and they want him to build the chapel—for free! During the movie, Mother Superior and Homer are oftentimes at odds—Mother Superior is very strong willed, and Homer feels "under-appreciated" for his work. In the eyes of the Mother Superior, it is God who is building the chapel. Home is a mere instrument.
Homer eventually abandons the project and leaves, but he can’t get the sisters out of his mind. So, he returns, and he is determined to finish the chapel. His efforts inspire some of the local people, who are skeptical about these foreign nuns but who eventually contribute money and materials for the chapel.
In the end, Mother Superior comes to realize how much Homer did for them. Her faith in God—who cares for the lilies of the field—did not waver. But her faith in humanity increased. And Homer departed with a clear sense of accomplishment—and divine providence.
I mention this movie because the theme of our Gospel today is the "providence of God," and the faith that all of us should have in the providence of God. If God can care for the lilies of the field and birds of the sky, how much more will he care for us—whom he loves, as a mother loves her child.
The Gospel today comes, once again, from the Mt’s Sermon on the Mount—that rich source of inspiration and challenge. Today’s reading pulls together words and phrases that have become a part of our Christian consciousness: "You cannot serve God and mammon" (money, material
wealth); the "lilies of the field that neither toil nor spin"; "seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides."
Still, as beautiful as these words are, you might be thinking, "Well, flowers don’t have to worry, and birds will always find something to eat. But what about me—is it realistic to think, to depend upon the fact—that God will always provide?"
Good question. And it certainly matches the challenge we heard last week, about loving enemies and praying for those who persecute you.
In both of these readings, Jesus pushes us to the limit—challenging us to think in new ways. Yes, in some ways, Jesus speaks in hyperbole—but he does so to make us hear, to help us get the point. One philosopher said that to make a bent stick straight, you have to bend it hard the other way—then it snaps back straight. Or, Flannery O’Connor’s statement that "to the hard of hearing, you shout." That’s what’s happening here.
So what is Jesus trying to teach us—what is he shouting about? The key is really in the opening lines of the Gospel: "You cannot serve God and mammon." We cannot have two masters. So, who is your master? Whom do you serve? Where do we put our trust? Someone once said that our priorities are evident in our cityscapes, the skylines in our cities. In a medieval city, the highest building would have been the cathedral and its steeple. Today? What are the two most prominent, the highest, buildings in Portland? Two banks. In other cities, it is either banks or insurance companies. We know where we put our trust!
So Jesus tells us to get our priorities straight. If money is the center of our gravity, we will live very anxious and fearful lives. When God is the center of our gravity, then we will live the Gospel: "I tell you, do not worry about your life . . . Seek first the Kingdom, and all things will be given you besides." When our priorities are right, everything else falls into place.
As St. Paul says in our second reading today: be slaves of Christ, not mammon. Trusting in God. Like lilies of the field. And the birds in the sky.