"'If you want to become my followers, you must deny yourselves and take up your cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit you if you gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit your very self?'" (Luke 9:23-25)

Gospel for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (26 February 2017)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospel

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:24–34 – ESV)

Introductory note

“The introduction (5:1–20) and the first two major parts (5:21–48; 6:1–18) of the Sermon on the Mount display clear structures: nine Beatitudes, six antitheses, and three acts of piety. The third major part (6:19–7:12) has no obvious structure. Rather it is put together like a wisdom book (see Proverbs, Sirach, Qoheleth) in which short units are placed side by side because of their similar content or because of external principles (catchwords, etc.). It features commands, illustrations, reflections, and a summary conclusion (7:12). ....

“The section about treasures (6:19–21) first contrasts earthly (perishable) treasures and heavenly (imperishable) treasures (6:19–20), and adds a reflection on the relation between one’s treasure and one’s heart (6:21). The units seem to have already been joined in Q (see Luke 12:33–34), probably on the basis of the word ‘treasure’.

“The sayings concerning the eye (6:22–23; see Luke 11:34–36) take as their starting point current ideas about the eye as the ‘lamp’ of the body and move in a ‘moral’ direction - to contrast either generous and stingy people, or good and evil people. They were joined to 6:21 because of their theme of intention determining the whole direction of one’s life.

“The saying about not serving two masters (6:24; see Luke 16:13) moves the theme of total commitment forward by imagining an attempt at divided commitment and judging it impossible.

“The reflection on trust in God’s power (6:25–34; see Luke 12:22–32) states a basic principle (6:25), gives two illustrations regarding food (6:26–27) and clothing (6:28–30), restates the principle (6:31–32), draws a conclusion (6:33), and adds a final consideration (6:34). It is vaguely connected to the preceding by its theme of whole-hearted service of God. To the Q version Matthew has appended his characteristic concern about God’s righteousness (6:33) and what sounds like a popular aphorism (6:34).” (Daniel J Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Liturgical Press, 2007, 104.)

Reflection

Matthew signals the beginning of Jesus’ preaching with the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2 – ESV). In the Gospel of two Sundays ago we read Jesus’ words: “You are the light of the world .... Let your light shine!” (Matthew 5:14 & 16). And just before today’s text in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says: “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:23 – ESV) Jesus wants us to shine, to become the light of the world!

The 4th century Father of the Church, St Gregory of Nyssa (335-394), offers a very practical image to illustrate Jesus’ message: “You are like a metal coin: on the whetstone the rust disappears. The coin was dirty, but now it reflects the brightness of the sun and shines in its turn. Like the coin, the inward part of the personality, called the heart by our Master, once rid of the rust that hid its beauty, will rediscover the first likeness and be real .... So when people look at themselves they will see in themselves the One they are seeking.” (St Gregory of Nyssa, cited by Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, New City Press, 1995, 237.)

“You cannot serve God and money. .... do not be anxious about your life .... seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”. The great generators of “rust” are dishonesty, selfishness and greed. Anxiety and fear can do it too. Don’t let the “rust” gather! Get rid of the “rust” that has already gathered! The preventers of “rust” are honesty, compassion and generosity. But nothing will clean the “rust” away and protect you against more “rust” as effectively as grace. Grace is everywhere! God has promised: “I am with you! All the time, in all circumstances!” Pay attention, listen, slow down, be a bit more deliberate, become aware, let grace seep into the deep recesses of your being. Allow the Source of all light into “the land of deep darkness” that besets us all.

The vicissitudes and frustrations, the disappointments great and small, the tedious and boring tasks, the unfriendly and uncaring folk, and the sheer ordinariness of our lives, are “whetstones”. The breath of the Spirit in each moment can gently blow the “rust” away. What gratitude is awakened! What joy there is in this!

St Gregory encourages us further: “If you rediscover the beauty of the image that was put in you at the beginning, you will obtain within yourself the goal of your desires .... The divine image will shine brightly in us in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory throughout all ages.” (Ibid.)

Do you have any sense of “the beauty of the image that was put in you at the beginning”?