February 26, 2017 — Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
March 1 is Ash Wednesday and the official beginning of Lent. Today’s readings are most appropriate as we prepare for that penitential time. In the Gospel Reading from St. Matthew the Lord tells us, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” What exactly might He have meant by that?
Scholars continue to debate exactly what “mammon” is. One theory is that it is based on the Hebrew word aman, which meant to trust. Perhaps Jesus was speaking of trusting in wealth rather than in God. However, it would seem safe to say that mammon represents materialism. There is no question that this is a challenge in today’s society, and the comment made by Jesus becomes as much a subject of debate as the meaning of the word “mammon.” We will consider this further when we reflect on the entire Gospel reading.
The First Reading from Isaiah is quite short, but it poses another question. Zion is the highest hill in Jerusalem and the implication is that God’s people are speaking and proclaiming that the Lord has forsaken and forgotten them. That is their question, but God answers quite clearly and directly, concluding by saying “I will never forget you.” If we tie that to the statement about mammon, the question in both instances would seem to be “Whom do we trust?” We must know and accept the fact that God is with us and that God loves us. Our trust needs to be in Him, not in earthly matters or earthly riches. It is often said that at the heart of stewardship is trust.
St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians from where our Second Readings have been drawn for the past few weeks continues. Paul also speaks in relation to who and what do we serve, and what form does that service take? Paul uses the word “servant” to describe himself and to tell the Corinthians that this is how they need to act for the Lord — as His servant or disciple. We may balk at the idea of being a “servant,” but in the original Greek in which this letter was written, Paul uses the word hyperetas. The more common Greek word to describe a servant is doulos, and that word appears more often in the Bible.
Paul uses the word hyperetas for a reason. That word does mean “servant” but it means someone who serves by choice, as someone who is free to make choices. In other words the “servant” Paul is talking about is someone who chooses to serve. Paul connects this kind of servant to a steward. The meaning of a steward is quite clear — someone who manages and cares for something that belongs to another. As stewards of Christ and of the Church we accept the fact that everything comes from God, that everything is ultimately the Lord’s, and we are merely stewards of those gifts, not owners, and we are called to serve God and others.
There are many ways to look at what Christ is teaching us in the Gospel from St. Matthew. As He often does, Jesus is talking about where our hearts are. Many people maintain that they love God and that they serve God, but do their actions, the way they live, reflect that? One indication may be were our priorities are. How many people spend more money on lottery tickets than in their gifts to God and charity in thanksgiving? You do not have to be rich to serve “mammon” (materialism). Many poor are just as greedy and desirous of wealth as the rich are.
Jesus also addresses that issue of trust in God. He indicates that desiring wealth and virtually worshipping it is a danger, but just as dangerous can be our anxiety about such things. The Lord’s point is that if we truly trust in God, we will not get caught up in our fears of what may happen. “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body?” We may become cynical when we hear that, but we could not have those thoughts if we placed our total trust in God. Jesus speaks of the birds that do not sow or reap. The Lord is not saying they do not work, that they do not make an effort to meet their needs, but He is saying that they are not overcome with worry about these things. He points to two things we must work against — 1. Placing our priorities on material things rather than God and serving God; 2. Fretting constantly about these same things when we must believe God is with us and loves us.
Our Lord and Savior concludes in part by telling us “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” We tend to worry about things over which we have little control, but God does.