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. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.
Today’s Gospel reading is of supreme importance for our personal well-being, for the most frequently encountered, truly great, obstacle to our living more fully human and Christian lives is distraction, deliberately cultivated and eagerly sought for in our media- sensitive modern society: leading directly to superficiality and derivatively to ‘cares of the world’ -- worrying over what is past, self-solicitude for the present, and anxiety about what the future might hold – all of which, together, make effective self-commitment to God and His purposes well-nigh impossible, as can be found in the lives of so many nominal Catholics and Christians today.
Our modern world, becoming ever more at variance with the Lord, boasts about its ability to provide endless distractions (literally at the tip of one’s finger!) whilst denying, indeed mocking, the very suggestion that there is any institutionally-accepted cause for the sickness and pain of superficiality, indecisiveness, and anxiety in the lives of so many: what is so popular and generates so much money cannot be wrong! At least, it must be tolerated! Jesus, on the contrary, was most clear and decisive in His teaching:
Your heavenly Father knows (all your needs); seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.
Those words, ‘seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness’ require, however, a degree of commitment and selflessness that life in modern society -- where distractions generate both abundant money and immediate popularity – ‘institutionally’ opposes.
Today, young children, indeed even infants, are – through the media which delights to detail, dramatize, and magnify -- made aware of and excited by what is going on around them long before they are able to recognize, and rightly appreciate, what is going on within themselves.
How much children need to be guided by their mothers – uniquely and naturally endowed and also spiritually empowered by God, to guide their child’s earliest and most tentative response to its experience of human life! A mother – uniquely – can lead her child to a shared appreciation of the deep and calming influence of what is both ordinary and lovable in the world around; as well as – perhaps with the added help here of a rather special father -- to a humble and grateful experience of admiration and awe before the exuberance of what is wonderful in nature and her seasons!
Again, how much children need a mother who knows herself and is willing and able to open up her heart and mind in order to introduce them – early in life! -- into an awareness of the sublime yet fragile glory of human relationships which form the fabric of daily human living and offer what is life’s greatest experience of natural fulfilment!
Finally, how many children are blessed to find themselves living in and learning with a family where a truly Catholic appreciation of Mother Church and love for Jesus’ Person and teaching is a shared light and joy, guide and support, in all difficulties and trials; evoking in return gratitude and love, loyalty and self-sacrifice?
We find, alas, so many young people are wrapped up, enmeshed and embroiled, in internet activities, secretly or even publicly, acerbic and disturbing; or else fixated on the television which -- frequently and unashamedly -- stirs up, with seductive and violent emphasis, what most young people cannot deal with aright because they have not become able, perhaps never had the opportunity or the necessary guidance, to gradually discover and learn what it is to be in tune, and at home, with their own personal self and individual make-up. So many are ill-at-ease with themselves, and need endless ‘things to do’, to occupy their thoughts and temporarily distract their imagination, lest the ever-threatening background danger of self-preoccupation with its accompanying kaleidoscope of vague fears, raises its head against them. As a result they are strongly tempted to taste and enjoy some of the many passing satisfactions, irresponsible pleasures, and fleeting consolations, being touted and displayed in a continuous stream on the screen before them or in the late night, back-street, or foolishly juvenile society around them; all of which bring nothing more than a multiplicity of shallow satisfactions and passing moments of pseudo-exaltation, before ebbing away and leaving behind, as the wages of sin and worldly inheritance, a numbing sense of frustration, emptiness, and disenchantment.
Today Jesus seeks to protect young people from such situations. Life is not meant to be lived in a warren with dark corridors leading hither and thither into ever deeper recesses of darkness and threat. He speaks to us as Lord and Master with words that are both sure and true:
No man can serve two masters; he will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Jesus lived and died with the words of Israel’s psalms in His heart and on His lips, and often in the Gospels He seeks to pass on to us some of the blessings He Himself had gained from living those words to the full. Today’s is one such psalm:
Only in God be at rest, my soul, for from Him comes my hope. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold. I shall not be disturbed.
Notice those final words: ‘I shall not be disturbed’; they indicate a deliberately willed purpose, not a hardly-noticed automatic or merely hoped-for result. If we look at Jesus we can see how He Himself followed the psalmist’s lead, and we may, perhaps, even glimpse thereby something of His Personal relationship with His Father in Heaven:
Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
He must have often seen and thought upon what He saw when, alone, He watched and heard the birds fluttering above and around Him; and as He observed them His thoughts would instinctively turn to His Father, their habitual resting place … ‘they do not sow but My heavenly Father feeds them’.
Learn from the wild flowers. They do not work or spin. But not even Solomon in all his splendour was clothed … as God has clothed them, the grass of the field.
Again, He must frequently have admired the simple beauty of Israel’s flowers, and always His thoughts would turn in gratitude to, and rest confidently with, His Father …. ‘I shall not be disturbed’.
Jesus’ love for His Father was total and unremitting … He saw what was beautiful or good and immediately His life’s compass swung to His Father in admiration and praise; and when He looked upon what was evil He would compassionate His Father:
Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.
Ultimately, love is the only guarantee that we will never be subject to the domination and dichotomy of two masters. It is love alone which can give us the initial strength and courage to choose, to shoulder what we might possibly admire but could never, of ourselves, undertake.
But for such love of God we have to be prepared to give ourselves … ‘I shall not allow myself to be disturbed, I will love God!’
If we now turn to St. Paul we will see, and wonder at, of his oneness with Jesus’ teaching; for we are all surely aware of our human sensitivity to the opinion of others, and even more especially might that have been felt by Paul, since his work did not involve objective skills, tangible powers, but was totally concerned and involved with people, affecting them and indeed changing them through his proclamation of the Good News. Would not his ability, success, and effectiveness as an Apostle, therefore, be inextricably linked with, and in some measure dependent upon, his own personal charm and popularity? But in blunt contradiction with any such thoughts or suppositions, Paul tells us:
It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or by any human tribunal.
Paul was in not subject to human opinion! Indeed, in that respect one can say that he was dead to men. He served but one Master. And yet, there was another, more secret and hidden tribunal by which he might have been affected, influenced, and ultimately corrupted, in his discipleship: that of self-justification and self-satisfaction. But Paul proceeds immediately to totally repel any such thought:
I do not even pass judgement on myself; but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the One who judges me is the Lord.
Paul was sublimely simple: no reflecting on himself, neither his successes or failures nor his personal faults or popularity. He was indeed, a most wonderful disciple of Jesus His Lord … one dead to the world and even to himself for love of Jesus:
I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8)
Jesus would say at the height of His torments and dereliction:
Father, into your hands I commit My spirit;
St. Paul, as a supreme disciple, would likewise say (2 Timothy 1:12):
I know the One in Whom I have put my trust, and I am sure He is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to Him.
Such examples do most surely inspire us, but the only way for us to respond to such inspiration is to follow their example.
Parents, lead, guide, and encourage your children to recognize, appreciate, respond to, what is beautiful, good, and true in life. As they grow up and need rules for guidance and strength, offer them your own companionship and show them the truth, love, and the beauty behind and above such God-given and humanly-necessary rules. Obedience, to be sure, is at times absolutely necessary as our ultimate defence and surest guide, but its authority and power should always be based on love and express love:
Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
And so, my dear People of God, may Jesus’ final words in today’s Gospel inspire us to go out from Holy Mass today with loving purpose, firm hope, and most joyful confidence, to advance more surely on our life-long endeavour to:
Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and not worry about tomorrow.