Once upon a time, I wanted to be a teacher. So I became a banker, and then I became a priest…so I suppose, in a sort of roundabout way, I did become a teacher. Which begs the question: can I start issuing demerits? Do we even do those anymore?
But seriously, I want to do the teacher thing and sort of review the last couple weeks’ worth of Gospels. They’ve all been from Saint Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, and while it hasn’t been an entirely continuous reading of that particular sermon, it’s been awful close. So, just to refresh you on a couple things…
On January 29th, the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, you heard the Beatitudes. You heard what God has in store for those who live a life that is authentically rooted in keeping His law, including but not limited to, the Kingdom of God.
On February 5th, the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jesus told you that you were the light of the world and the salt of the earth. He put you to work and entrusted you to go forth and glorify your heavenly Father in word and deed that many more people might be drawn to Him.
On February 12th, the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jesus told us that He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. He said that the law was not just a thing to be observed in a superficial way, but something that we need to interiorize in our hearts, and then live out in the fullest way possible.
Last week, February 19th, the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jesus challenged us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. He told us to be people of forgiveness and love, because in so doing, we become perfect, just as our Heavenly Father is perfect.
All of which, of course, leads us to today. Today, Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”
I have to confess that this passage, taken alone, causes me no end of strife. Because I like to worry. I’m very good at it. There’s a reason I have so much gray hair, and it’s not Father Feeney. (It’s Father George.) This is not to say I’m a pessimist, because I don’t think I am; I just get caught up in all the details and I try to anticipate every possible outcome, no matter how farfetched it might be, and so I worry. Thus, when Jesus tells us not to worry, I experience all kinds of cognitive dissonance, because while I want to follow Him, worrying is what I do.
And that’s why, I think, we have to look at today’s Gospel in the light of all the 4 weeks that have preceded it. Because there is a common theme that runs throughout all of them. It seems like a really basic theme, but on the other hand, we have a hard time believing it. Here it is:
God loves you. He really, really, does.
He loves you so much and so desires you to share the life of the blessed that He gave you, in no uncertain terms, the Beatitudes;
He loves you so much that He has filled you with the gifts you need to be salt and light for the world, and moreover, He trusts you to be those things;
He loves you so much that He just doesn’t tell you what His law is, but He desires to imprint it on your very heart, because he wants to be that close to you.
He loves you so much that he wants you to be complete – to be whole – to be perfect, just as He is perfect.
And He loves you so much that He wants you to stop worrying so darn much and to trust Him more.
Deus caritas est. God is love. And all He does is love. And everything we know about Him ultimately comes down to love…and yet, for some strange reason, I think a lot of folks – myself included – sometimes have a really hard time accepting the fact that God loves them. Instead, we try to be conditional with how we understand God’s love. We say, “God will only love me if I never sin, but since I do sin, God doesn’t love me.” “God will only love me if I do X, Y, and Z.” “God cannot possibly love me because I once did <whatever>.” False, false, and false.
Look at what Saint Paul has to say in today’s second reading regarding judging. Do not pass judgments on one another, he says, and for that matter, do not judge even yourself…because it belongs to the Lord to pass judgment. And He does not judge as we do, because He does not love as we do. He loves better.
As God says through the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading: Even if a mother could forget her child, He will not forget you. God does not abandon His people, nor does He ever forget them, or leave them hanging or waiting for more. He loves them consistently and gives them exactly what they need when they need it.
So stop worrying as to whether or not God loves you or even can love you. He does. Trust Him and His love, and go forth and share that love with others. We live in a world anymore that’s become so devoid of love. Instead, we find ourselves ruled by fear, and prone to anger, jealousy, wrath, hatred, and indifference. No wonder we worry. But as the Apostle Saint John writes in his first letter, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” God loves you perfectly. Stop worrying. Instead, live like someone whose life has been forever changed by that love…because it has.
Live like a disciple. Proclaim God’s love for you and for all through your words and deeds and work to build the Kingdom.
God loves you. He really, really does.