Sunday, March 30, 2014

Appointment With God


4th Sunday in Lent (A)

Picture: cc Ron Wiecki

Sisters and brothers, when was the last time you arranged to meet someone for an outing of some sort? What was it like? What did you have to do? I expect that you probably didn’t think twice about it. It just came naturally to you. But, to be honest, I can’t say the same for myself. I still sometimes find the whole process rather challenging. The reason is that I’m still struggling to adapt to a change in how we do such things. In how we make and keep appointments.

In the past, when people arranged to meet someone, they would typically agree in advance on a specific time and place. The more specific the better. Say, for example, 10:30 AM at Farrer Road MRT Station Control. Very specific. So as to avoid waiting at the wrong place at the wrong time. But habits have changed, haven’t they? These days, when many of us arrange to meet up, we usually tend to keep the details very vague. We might say, for example, ION Mall around 6ish. Now that’s vague. We all know how huge the ION is. And, depending on whom you’re meeting, 6ish can mean anything from 5:01 to 6:59. And not only are we less specific about the details. We also have no qualms about changing what we’ve agreed upon. Even at the last minute.

There is, of course, a very good reason why we feel free to do this. It’s because, these days, everyone carries a phone. So we don’t have to decide ahead of time, exactly where in ION Mall to meet. Or exactly what time to be there. All this can be worked out later. Since we expect to be in continual contact with the person we are meeting anyway. Some of us feel free even to cancel the appointment at the last minute. Or to show up really late. Without feeling too bad about it. Just as long as we call or text or WhatsApp the person to let them know.

I’m sure many of us here find all this very ordinary. Perhaps we haven’t even noticed a change in our habits at all. But–and I’m embarrassed to admit this–I still find it a challenge. I struggle not just to accept the vagueness and the uncertainty. But also to remain in constant contact with the person I’m meeting. You see, I often forget to carry my phone with me. So this is the twofold challenge that I have to face these days. If I want to continue meeting people socially, I have to learn to accept the vagueness. And I also have to remember to keep in constant contact with whomever it is I’m meeting.

Accepting vagueness and keeping in constant contact. This twofold challenge needs to be faced every time we arrange to meet someone. And this is true not just when we meet any ordinary person. It’s true also when we wish to meet God. Notice how, in the second reading today, we are given a very clear instruction. A very particular task. Try to discover what the Lord wants of you. In other words, try to be wherever God wants you to be. Try to arrange to meet God. To do God’s will... To succeed in doing this is to remain in the light. To be able to see God. To fail is to fall into darkness. To remain blind to God’s continual presence and action in our lives and in our world.

But what does it look like when people succeed in meeting God? And what does it look like when they fail? The rest of our readings provide us with very concrete examples. In the first reading, the prophet Samuel has an appointment with God’s will. God sends him on a particular mission. To anoint a king. But notice how vague God’s initial instructions are. All that Samuel is told to do at first is to go and anoint one of Jesse’s sons. Jesse, as we find out later, has eight sons. But Samuel isn’t told exactly which one he’s supposed to anoint. At least not at the start. Even so, the prophet accepts this initial vagueness and goes anyway. He sets out on his rendezvous with God.

And what allows him to succeed in meeting God is that Samuel remains in constant contact with God. As Jesse presents each of his sons in turn, Samuel is continually open to God’s voice. He keeps consulting God. Even allowing God to correct his own initial inclinations. Right until Samuel finally meets the exact person he’s supposed to anoint. Doesn’t this look a lot like how two people might keep talking on their phones until they finally manage to locate each other in a huge and crowded shopping mall? The ability to accept vagueness. And the willingness to keep in constant contact. These are the things that enable the prophet Samuel to do what God wants. To keep his appointment with God’s will. And, in the process, Samuel learns to see with new eyes. With God’s eyes. For God does not see as we see: we look at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.

In the same way, in the gospel, the man born blind also learns to see with new eyes. I’m referring, of course, not to so much to the healing of the eyes in his head. But more to the opening of the eyes of his heart. The eyes of faith. The eyes that enable this unnamed man to recognise and to acknowledge who Jesus really is. As it was for Samuel, so too for this man. The process is a gradual one. It requires the ability to tolerate vagueness. And a willingness to keep in constant contact with God. At first, when questioned by his neighbours, the man refers to the One who healed him simply as the man called Jesus. A little later, however, he tells the Pharisees that Jesus is a prophet. Then, shortly after that, upon meeting and conversing with Jesus a second time, the man finally comes to see and to accept the Truth. He calls Jesus his Lord. And he worships him.

How does all this come about? We may imagine that this man must have been carrying on an interior conversation with God in his heart. As it was for Samuel, so too with the man born blind. There is an ability to accept vagueness. And a willingness to keep in constant contact. As a result, the man comes to true faith. He manages to keep his appointment with God’s will. He successfully meets God in the person of Jesus the Lord.

In contrast, the Pharisees fail to do the same. And they fail because they cling to the apparent clarity of their preconceived ideas of how God acts. They hear that, in healing the blind man, Jesus had made a paste. This, for them, is equivalent to doing work. Which is forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus appears to violate the Sabbath. So he must be a sinner. He can’t have been sent by God. There’s just no other possibility. No need to listen to what Jesus might have to say for himself. No need to keep in touch with him. Yet, in rejecting any meaningful conversation with Jesus, in refusing to tolerate even the slightest possibility of uncertainty or vagueness, the Pharisees remain blind to the presence and action of God in their midst. They miss their appointment with God. They fail to do what God wants.

All of which should lead us to reflect upon ourselves. Lent is a time for turning toward God. A time when we prepare ourselves to see more clearly God’s presence and action in our lives. The better to do whatever it is God wants of us. But, in order for us to do this, we must face the same twofold challenge that I find so difficult. We must be willing to tolerate vagueness and to keep in constant contact with God.

Sisters and brothers, we actually do all this quite willingly, without a second thought, every time we arrange to meet our friends (or even our enemies for that matter). We accept vagueness. And we keep in constant contact. How willing are we to do the same for God today?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Brought Back on Track


3rd Sunday in Lent (A)

Picture: cc atomicjeep

Sisters and brothers, I think you’re familiar with the words distract and detract. You know that, literally, to distract or to detract is to draw something away from its intended path. What is your experience of distraction and detraction? Some time ago, a young family of three was at a food court. The two parents and a little girl. The daddy had just left the table. I presume to get some food. And the little girl started crying very loudly, wanting to follow her dad. At which point, the mom nonchalantly reached into her handbag, pulled out her cellphone, and handed it to the girl. Immediately, the crying stopped. And, very quickly, the girl became completely engrossed with the phone. Without even realising it, she had been successfully detracted. Distracted. Drawn away from her original intention of following her dad.

We find something very similar in our readings today. In the first reading, the Israelites are tormented by a terrible thirst for water. And, as a result, not only do they complain loudly against Moses, the reading says that they also put the Lord to the test, by saying ‘Is the Lord with us or not?’ Now it may not be so obvious to us. But the people are actually allowing themselves to be distracted. They are allowing themselves to be drawn away from their original path. For this thirst that is tormenting them–this thirst of the lips and the mouth and the throat–is causing them to forget a deeper thirst. A thirst of the heart.

As you know, it wasn’t so long ago that the Israelites had been suffering terribly under the oppression of the Egyptians. Treated as slaves, they had cried out to God for help. And, mercifully, God had heard their cry. Had brought them out of Egypt with mighty hand and outstretched arm. This is why the Israelites are in the wilderness in the first place. God is quenching their thirst for freedom. God is leading them to the Promised Land. But they  forget all this as soon as they encounter difficulties in finding water. The thirst of the lips distracts them from the thirst of the heart. And, all too quickly, they turn against the very God who is trying to set them free. They are distracted.

The gospel too paints us a picture of distraction. Like the Israelites in the first reading, the Samaritan woman is thirsty for water. Which is why she goes to the well. But this thirst of the lips is not the only thirst that she has. Again like the Israelites, this woman is also experiencing a deeper thirst. A thirst of the heart. For we’re told that she goes to the well at the sixth hour. Twelve noon. The hottest part of the day. When there would normally be no one else there. People usually draw water earlier in the morning. Or later in the evening. When it’s cooler.

And there’s a reason for the woman’s apparent shyness. Jesus reveals later that she has had five husbands, and the one she is with is not her husband. So hers is an irregular marital situation. A scandalous situation. One likely to attract gossip. No wonder she avoids people. And yet, isn’t it likely that, precisely because of this separation from others, she is experiencing a thirst of the heart? A deep yearning for human connection? But the woman seems oblivious to this. For when Jesus offers to quench her thirst of the heart with living water, the woman keeps bringing the conversation back to the thirst of the lips. Back to the water from the well. Quite clearly, like the Israelites, the Samaritan woman is distracted.

But that’s not all. Our readings are not just about distraction. They are also about how God brings distracted people back on track. In the first reading, God chooses to do this by giving the Israelites what they want. God instructs Moses to strike the rock with his staff. And out flows water for the people to drink. In the gospel, Jesus masterfully converses with the woman until she becomes willing to entertain the possibility that Jesus might be the person she is thirsting for without realising it. Such that she puts down her water jar and leaves the well. She abandons her distraction. And runs back to town. To the very people she has been avoiding. In order to tell them all about this fascinating person she has met. I wonder, she tells them, if he is the Christ.

Distracted people being brought back on track. This is what our readings are about today. And this should be no surprise to us. For we continue to make our way through our Lenten pilgrimage. And what is Lent if not a time for getting back on track? A time to become more conscious of the different ways in which we might have allowed ourselves to be distracted. Allowed our various more superficial appetites and desires to draw us away from our deeper thirst for God. Distractions like burdensome trials and tribulations. Or worldly dreams and aspirations. The thirst for things. And the hunger for recognition.

During Lent, we allow God to redirect our heart. To bring us back on track. And, in our readings today, God does this in two ways. By showing us a person. And by bringing us to a place. The person is, of course, Jesus. He is the one who shows us what it looks like to always remain on track. In the gospel, the disciples urge Jesus to eat something. To satisfy his hunger for food. His need to fill his stomach. But Jesus’ reply shows us that his focus is on a deeper hunger. On a deeper need. My food, he tells them, is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work. Jesus is so focused on doing the Father’s will, that he allows nothing to distract him from it.

But God brings us back on track not just by showing us the person of Jesus. God also directs our minds to a very particular place. In the first reading, the Israelites are brought back on track at the Rock of Horeb. In the gospel, the Samaritan woman is brought back on track at Jacob’s Well. But what about us? Where are we to go? Where is our Rock? Where is our Well?

St. Paul provides us with a hint of an answer in the second reading when he writes, what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. This verse should transport us to that moving scene, described so vividly in John’s gospel (19:34). As Jesus hangs dead on the cross, one of the soldiers pierces his side with a lance: and immediately there comes out blood and water. This, my dear sisters and brothers, is our Rock. Here is our Well. This is the privileged location where we are all brought back on track. For it is in this blood and in this water that we are baptised. It is here that the love of God is made powerfully present to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. And it is also this same place that we allow ourselves to revisit at this and at every Mass.

Sisters and brothers, amid the many things and situations that distract and detract us, that draw us away from our focus on God, how is the crucified and risen Christ continuing to bring us back on track today?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Revolution in Revelation


2nd Sunday in Lent (A)

Picture: cc Andrew Currie

Sisters and brothers, I don’t know exactly when it happened, but some time ago I began to notice a quiet revolution taking place right before my eyes. Right here in tranquil Singapore. Some of you may have noticed it as well. Don’t worry. I’m not talking about a military coup or a violent uprising. The revolution I’m referring to has to do, not with the raising of weapons, but with the buying and selling of durians.

Some of you may still remember how, in the old days, the durian-seller would pry open the fruit just wide enough for you to catch a glimpse of what was inside. If you were lucky, he might also let you stick a finger into the fruit and have a taste. But, as long as that little opening did not reveal any rotten or worm-infested bits, you were expected to pay for the fruit he had opened. Which made buying durians a risky business. Especially if you weren’t very experienced. For there was nothing to prevent a dishonest fruit-seller from hiding the rotten portions, and showing you only the good parts. All the while promising you the very best.

In recent times, however, things have changed. These days, for some reason, fruit-sellers have taken to opening up their durians completely. And packing the little yellow nuggets in transparent plastic wrap. So that now you know exactly what you’re buying. No more painful surprises when you get home. What you see is what you get. The only thing that hasn’t changed is that there is still, of course, a price to be paid. But now you pay it more willingly. With greater confidence.
 
What do you think, sisters and brothers? Isn’t this a revolution in how durians are bought and sold? A radical shift has taken place. From concealment to revelation. From anxiety to confidence. From having to rely only on the promises of the seller to being able to see for yourself what it is you’re paying for.

I bring this up not because I want to make your mouths water. But because I think a similar revolution is taking place in our Mass readings today. Not a durian revolution. But a spiritual one. Notice how, both in the first reading and in the gospel, God invites certain people to do something difficult. To pay a price of some sort. In the first reading, God asks Abram to leave your country, your family and your father’s house. Which is difficult enough to do. What makes it even more difficult is that God doesn’t actually tell him where to go. Abram is asked simply to move. And God will show him where to go later.

In the gospel too, God asks the disciples to do something very difficult. Referring to Jesus, God says, This is my Son, the Beloved... Listen to him. Which may, at first seem easy enough. Except that, at this point in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is actually on a journey. He is making his way to Jerusalem. Where he will be tortured. And put to death on a cross. And then raised up on the third day. Not only that, but a few verses before the ones we heard read, Jesus had given his disciples this instruction: If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. This is what the disciples are being asked to do. This is what it means to listen to Jesus. It is to renounce oneself. To take up one’s cross. And to follow him.

Clearly, both in the first reading and in the gospel, God is asking people to do something difficult. But God doesn’t do this only to see people suffer. The discomfort that God is inviting people to endure is actually a price that has to be paid in exchange for something good. Something beautiful. Something sweet and tasty. Much like how people have to pay a price to enjoy delicious durians. And it is here, between the first reading and the gospel, that we find a revolution taking place.

In the first reading, God deals with Abram in much the same way that durian-sellers used to deal with their customers. Abram has to pay a price. He has to uproot himself and set out on the journey. But without actually seeing what he can expect in return. All he has to rely on is God’s spoken promise. I will make you a great nation...

In the gospel, on the other hand, something has changed. Like Abram, the disciples are asked to pay a price. They have to follow Jesus to the cross. But, unlike Abram, the disciples are given something more to rely on than God’s spoken promise. The disciples are given an experience of what Jesus will look like after he is raised from the dead. In the gospel, what used to be hidden in Abram’s day, is now brought fully to light. On the Mountain of Transfiguration, like a durian having its contents openly displayed in a transparent box, Jesus the Son of God, the Word Made Flesh, God’s Promise Fulfilled, is revealed in all his glory. The disciples are shown exactly what it is they are paying for. Exactly what they can expect. If only they listen to Jesus. If only they renounce themselves. And take up their cross. And follow him. Like him, they too will be transfigured.

Between the first reading and the gospel, then, a revolution has taken place. Something hidden has been brought to light. And it is this same revolution, that Paul writes about in the second reading. This radical change from concealment to revelation. From relying only on spoken promises to being shown exactly what to expect. Here, as in the other readings, there is something difficult to be done. A price to be paid. With me, Paul writes, bear the hardships for the sake of the Good News. But do it not on your own strength. Do it by relying on the power of God. On the strength that God provides. The grace that had already been granted to us, in Christ Jesus, before the beginning of time. Granted to us in a hidden way already in Abram’s day. But has now been revealed by the Appearing of our saviour Christ Jesus.

As with durians, so too with Christ. Something that was hidden has now been revealed. Something that was present only in spoken promises is now shown to us in the flesh. And it is shown to us for a specific reason. So that we will receive the confidence and strength to endure hardship. To take up our cross. To pay the price. In the sure hope that what we are buying is truly worth far more than the price we’re paying for it.

All of which should help us to deepen our appreciation of what we are doing in this great season of Lent. Through our spiritual discipline, as we recall the life, death, and rising of Christ, we are joining the disciples on the Mountain of Transfiguration. Feasting our eyes on the glory of Christ. Remembering what awaits us. So that we can have the confidence and the strength to bear the crosses that life places in our path. Crosses not of our own choosing. Crosses we cannot change. Crosses in the form of difficult people. Or challenging situations. Crosses that can crush us in despair. Or harden us in anger and resentment. But only if we let them. For these same crosses can also lead us to glory. If we but bear them in love. As Christ did before us.

Sisters and brothers, I think those fruit-sellers did a very shrewd thing in bringing about the durian revolution. By showing people exactly what to expect, they gave them confidence in paying the price for good fruit. How is the experience of Christ’s glory giving you the confidence to pay the price for good spiritual fruit? How are you being given the strength to carry your cross today?


Sunday, March 09, 2014

Transformation of Place Through Renovation of Heart


1st Sunday in Lent (A)

Picture: cc US Army Africa

Dear sisters and brothers, have you ever witnessed a place being transformed? For better or for worse? We all know, for example, how a house can be made to look nicer, simply by renovating it. By rearranging the things in it. By repainting the walls. By replacing the furniture. On the other hand, we also know how dirty a room can become if we stop cleaning it. Or if we allow a bunch of rowdy kids to run riot in it. To mess it up.

But places can be transformed not just in how they look. Not just by changing the things found in them. Places can also be transformed in the way they feel. In their atmosphere. And this can happen not so much by the changing of things, as much as by the choices of people. Imagine, for example, a large extended family, gathered for a party in an expensive restaurant. Maybe it’s someone’s birthday. It’s a joyous feast. In a fancy place. Everybody is dressed up. Everyone’s having a great time. And yet, we know how easily the mood can change. All it takes is for two people to choose to pick a fight with each other. To dig up an old grudge. To recall a past hurt. And then the whole place begins to feel different. The atmosphere changes. Joy turns to anger. Harmony to conflict. The party into a battlefield.

In contrast, haven’t we also experienced how even certain harsh and cruel places, certain painful and difficult situations, can sometimes be transformed for the better? Consider, for example, a platoon of National Servicemen in the middle of a long and difficult route march. Carrying heavy loads under the searing heat of the scorching sun. The way is hard. The conditions are difficult. Everyone seems wrapped up in his own suffering. Struggling to bear his own burden. And yet, all it takes is for one soldier to share a story. Or to crack a joke. Or to start a song. And then, soon enough, the mood changes. Struggle turns to play. Separation to connection. The rough road into a happy trail.

Places can be transformed not just through the renovation of objects. But also through the choices that people make. Isn’t this also what we find in our Mass readings for today? Both in the first reading and in the gospel, we find places being transformed. One for the worse. And the other for the better.

In the first reading, the action begins in a beautiful garden. A wondrous place that God has filled with every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat. Different plants to satisfy the human hunger, not just for food, but also for beauty. It is in such a marvellous location that God places the first man and the first woman. Adam and Eve. It’s a place of freedom and fulfillment. Of closeness and companionship. Of harmony and peace. But something happens to this place. Such that, by the end of the reading, Adam and Eve no longer feel at ease in it. Even though they remain thrown together in the same spot, they want to hide from each other. To distance themselves from one another. They are ashamed of their nakedness. For them, the garden of ease is transformed into a prison of shame. How does this happen?

The reading describes the process quite clearly. The exterior transformation of place happens through a change in interior disposition. Through a movement of human desire. We’re told that, prompted by the serpent, the woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, and that it was desirable for the knowledge that it could give. She sees something attractive and grabs it for herself. She makes a choice. She chooses to give priority to one desire over another. To the desire for power, over the desire to obey. To the desire to take, over the desire to receive. To the desire to satisfy her own appetites, to fill herself up, over the desire to empty herself, so that God can fill her. And, in that moment of choice, in that change of heart, in that shifting of loyalties, the place is transformed. From luxurious Eden to shameful exile.

The gospel, on the other hand, presents us with a change in the opposite direction. Here, we begin in the wilderness. A desolate, lonely, uninviting place. Characterized by the apparent absence of God and the presence of evil. And yet, by the end of the reading, this terrible place has undergone a radical transformation. At least for Jesus. We’re told that the devil left him, and angels appeared and looked after him. Loneliness and desolation are turned into comfort and consolation. How does this happen?

Again, as with the first reading, the transformation of place results from a movement of heart. From a choice between conflicting desires. Desires with which the devil tempts Jesus. Much like how advertisements tempt us. The desire to fill his stomach by changing stones to bread. The desire to inflate his ego by performing in public. The desire to stuff his pockets with material wealth and power by worshipping the devil. Fortunately for us, unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus resists the temptation. He chooses not to fill, but to empty himself. Isn’t this why he fasts? Jesus chooses to allow his desire for God to take priority above every other earthly appetite. And, by doing this, by remaining well disposed in his heart, Jesus effects a change in his surroundings. The lonely desert becomes an oasis of comfort.

All of which should help us to understand, sisters and brothers, what we trying to do in this great season of Lent. A time when we enter into the desert of self-denial and self-emptying. A time of prayer and fasting and almsgiving. We do all this not because we want to suffer. Much less because we want to take pride in our own spiritual achievements. To feel good about ourselves. No. In undertaking the discipline of Lent, we are making a choice. The same choice that St. Paul talks about in the second reading. A choice of obedience over disobedience. A choice of Jesus over Adam and Eve. A choice for grace instead of sin. By undertaking the discipline of Lent, we are allowing God to do for us, what the psalmist asks God to do for him: A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me.

But that’s not all. We do all this not just so that our hearts will be changed. But also so that our world will be transformed. Our world, which continues to be so disfigured by the harmful effects of pollution. Of course, it is true that we are fortunate to be living in a place that is also known as the Garden City. Where our surroundings are relatively clean and green. Even if we may have to endure the haze from time to time.

And yet, isn’t it also true that, even in this Garden City of ours, many people continue to live lives of quiet desperation? Lives of loneliness and pain. Of meaninglessness and suffering. Lives marked by the effects of sickness and addiction. Of poverty and alienation. Through our discipline of Lent, as we allow our hearts to be changed, perhaps we need also to find some way to reach out and to change the lives of others. To help them seek and  find the joy that we ourselves are privileged to experience. The joy that we are gathered around this altar to celebrate. The joy of Christ. The joy of obedience. The joy that comes from allowing God to take priority over everything else in our lives.

Sisters and brothers, on this first Sunday of Lent, how can we begin to transform our world by first renovating our hearts today?

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Who's Your Boss?


8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Picture: cc SeƱor Hans

Sisters and brothers, imagine for a moment, that you’re a working adult. And, for some reason, you’re arriving very late to work today. How do you feel? Are you anxious? Worried that you’ll get into trouble? … Or, imagine that you’ve been given a very important project to complete at work. And you’ve carelessly made a very serious mistake. So serious that there’s no way to recover. No way to prevent the project from ending in total failure. How do you react? Do you panic?

Especially in crisis situations like these, how we feel and how we react will, of course, depend a great deal on at least one thing. It will depend on whom it is we’re working for. On what our boss is like. If the boss is very demanding. Someone who always expects a hundred and ten percent. Someone whose nickname is slavedriver. Someone who doesn’t suffer fools. Someone who won’t think twice about firing people. Then we’ll probably feel really anxious if we arrive late at the office. We’ll probably be extremely panicky if we make a costly mistake. In contrast, if our boss were patient and understanding and kind. Perhaps we won’t feel so threatened.

How we react to a crisis at work is often a good indication of the kind of boss for whom we work. And this is true, isn’t it, even if we may be working for ourselves? Even someone who is self-employed can still feel anxious and panicky at work. And, when this happens, it may indicate one of two things. Either that person is very demanding even towards himself. Or he isn’t really his own boss. Whether he realises it or not, he’s actually working for someone, or something, else. Like a domineering wife perhaps. Or a demanding parent. Or an unforgiving global economy. Nor is it a matter only of our reactions in a crisis. It’s also our usual disposition at work. Are we typically calm and collected? Or are we more frequently anxious and agitated. Our habitual feelings at work can give us a good indication of who it is we are actually working for. Of what our true boss is really like.

There is a close connection, then, between our feelings and reactions at work and the kind of boss we may have. And this is true in the spiritual life as well. In today’s gospel, Jesus presents us with a very clear instruction. It is a command to feel and react in a certain way. Do not worry, Jesus says. Do not worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Now, I think many of us will agree that this is much easier said than done. Especially if we may be living in situations of crisis and stress. When, for example, I have a young family to raise and mortgages to pay. When I am the sole breadwinner. And I’ve just lost my job. How am I not to worry?

Thankfully, in the gospel, Jesus doesn’t just tell us what to do. He also tells us how to do it. How not to worry. Even in times of difficulty. And Jesus does this by helping us to make a very important connection. A connection that is indicated by the first three words of the second paragraph. That is why, Jesus says. That is why I am telling you not to worry. That is why… These three words are very important, because they invite us to make a crucial link between the second paragraph and the first.

You remember what Jesus says in the first paragraph: No one can be the slave of two masters. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money. In other words, in the spiritual life, you cannot have two bosses. You have to choose between one and the other. And not only do you have to choose, but, as we observed earlier, the kind of boss you choose will determine what your life feels like. How you react to crisis.

For example, who are the people who worry over what to eat and drink and wear? According to Jesus, it is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. It is the people who do not know the one true God. The people who do not acknowledge God as their Boss. The people who worship other gods. Who work for other bosses. It is these people who worry. And the reason is clear. As we said earlier, how you react to difficulties is a good indication of who you work for. Of who your boss really is. Presumably, the pagans work for bosses who stress them out. Bosses who continually make them feel worried and insecure.

In contrast, Jesus wants us to believe that, if we worship the one true God. If we choose God as our Master. If we follow the example of the psalmist who says, in God alone is my soul at rest. Then our reactions will be very different. We will not worry about the things the pagans worry about. And the reason is simple. It is because, unlike the gods of the pagans, unlike the god whose name is Money, our God is not a demanding, unreasonable, slavedriver of a boss. On the contrary, our God is caring and compassionate. Merciful and understanding. Gentle and loving. A God who cares even for the birds in the sky and the flowers growing in the fields. A God who finds it impossible to forget his people. As the first reading tells us, even if a woman were to forget her baby at the breast, God will still not forget us.

But that’s not all. The first reading ends at verse 15. Which is rather unfortunate. For verse 16 is very moving. Here God tells the people of Israel exactly why they will never be forgotten. I have branded you, God tells them, on the palms of my hands. For the people in the prophet Isaiah’s day, this claim was, of course, only a metaphor. God had no hands then. But, for us who are Christian, this prophecy has actually come true quite literally. For we believe in a God who has become flesh. A God who has loved us to the point of submitting his own body to crucifixion. A God whose hands and feet have been nailed to a cruel cross. A God who, even though he has been raised from the dead, continues to bear the scars that the nails made. It is impossible for this crucified and risen and scarred God to forget us, because, in the marks of his Passion, we have, quite literally, been carved into the palms of his hands.

This, my dear sisters and brothers, is the kind of God we have. This is the God we gather here this morning to meet and to celebrate. A God who inspires not anxiety and insecurity. But gratitude and trust. A God whose people do not worry. Not because they’re afraid they will be punished if they do. But simply because they know how much their God cares for them. Simply because they know that not even death can tear them away from his loving nail-scarred hands.

If all this is true, then the answer to our question is clear. How can we stop worrying? Even when everything may seem to be going wrong? Simply by doing our best to worship the one true God. To rest in him alone. To set our hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness. To become what St. Paul tells us we are meant to be. Christ’s servants. Stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God. People who, in everything they think and say and do, work for no other master than the One who gave his life to set them free.

Sisters and brothers, whether or not we worry depends very much on the god we choose to worship. On the master we choose to serve. On the boss for whom we choose to work. Sisters and brothers, for whom do you work? Who exactly is your boss today?
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