User’s Guide to Sunday
By Tom and April Hoopes
Sunday, Feb. 27 (Year A, Cycle I), is the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Isaiah 49:14-15; Psalm 62:2-3, 6-9; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34
Today’s Gospel is Christ’s famous “lilies of the field” exhortation to trust in God. Jesus telling us not to be anxious about what we are to eat or what we are to wear — because God cares more for us than he does for nature, where these things are all taken care of. But Christ himself hints at an even deeper meaning to his words, at the beginning of the Gospel passage:
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life ...’”
Why does Jesus give us this radical vision of reliance on Providence? Because we cannot serve two masters.
Bob Dylan was right. In his famous Christian song “Gotta Serve Somebody,” he sings, “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” At first that sounds like dualism. The obvious question is: Why can’t you just serve nobody, or, at any rate, serve yourself?
But Dylan senses something Catholic theology knows for sure: Man is a contingent being. Each of us couldn’t exist without the whole network of relationships that produced us. Furthermore, the personal history that led to each of us would not exist without something outside itself, too.
That means it is literally true for human beings that we must serve somebody. We don’t ever exist on our own, but always in service (or subservience) to another. That’s why Jesus personifies greed and materialism as “mammon.” We very literally serve mammon in our lives by our excessive worry about money and focus on possessions. One measure of this is that today’s Gospel looks crazy to us. We somehow don’t really believe that we would be as cared for as the birds of the sky if we just abandoned ourselves to divine Providence.
But there is plenty of proof that, of course, we would be. Many religious orders have, throughout history, followed this passage literally by subsisting only on what they could beg or find thrown away. If Francis and his followers could live this way in the scarcity of 13th-century Italy, we can certainly accept it in 21st-century America.
The irony is that, in times of abundance, we tend to forget God’s providence. Maybe we have a new master, mammon, and can’t imagine living without him. But the Church knows that mammon is a cruel master — and reminds us in the first reading and the Psalm that God is not. He really does care for us — and to prove that he can give us what we need spiritually, he will give us what we need materially.
With Lent coming up, it is a perfect time to examine our consciences about where our allegiances really lie.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.