Today’s Gospel reading is from part three of the Sermon on the Mount’s three-part instruction by Jesus on the way of life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Part three deals with trusting God and performing deeds of loving service to our neighbour.
We are by nature prone to be anxious and troubled about many things. Yet in seeking security and comfort, we may unwittingly be handing ourselves over to servitude to “mammon,” Jesus warns. “Mammon” is an Aramaic word that refers to money or possessions. Jesus is not condemning wealth. Nor is he saying that we shouldn’t work to earn our daily bread or to make provisions for our future. It is a question of priorities and goals. What are we living for? Where is God in our lives? Jesus insists that we need only to have faith in God and to trust in his Providence.
The readings this Sunday pose a challenge to us. Do we really believe that God cares for us, that he alone can provide for all our needs?
Do we believe that he loves us more than a mother loves the infant at her breast, as God himself promises in this week’s First Reading? Do we really trust that he is our rock and salvation, as we sing in the Psalm?
Jesus calls us to an intense realism about our lives. For all our worrying, none of us change the span of our days. None of us has anything that we have not received as a gift from God (see 1 Cor. 4:7). There are several ways to avoid making the big decisions in our lives. On the one hand, we “hedge our bets.” Yes, we want to answer God’s call, but we also want to make sure that if that is too difficult we can get out of our commitment. Or we can procrastinate—I’ll wait a little longer to propose to my girlfriend, or to enter grad school, or to apply for the seminary or a religious order. We have a tendency to want it both ways.
What Jesus says in today’s gospel, though, is that we can’t. Neither of these strategies is a good one—you can’t serve two masters! Ultimately, we must choose. In the end, not to choose is really to choose—or drift into a dead end.
What Jesus also says, however, is that if we do choose what we know in our heart is the better choice, the one that is not about ourselves but about service and giving and relationship, things will take care of themselves. This is because choosing this way to live our lives is to choose the “kingdom of God.” If we choose the kingdom, all the ways we try to hedge our bets or try to hold on to—food, drink, clothing, security, happiness, freedom—will be ours as well.
This is Jesus’ claim, and it’s a pretty radical one. It’s also right at the heart of the gospel. If we give, we receive; if we lose ourselves we find ourselves, if we die we live. Don’t hedge your bets. Don’t drift. Don’t hold on to certainty. Take the plunge. Take the risk. You cannot serve God and mammon—in other words, anything less than God. So, serve God.
Yes, serving God is a risk. But our readings today assure us that it is a risk well worth taking. St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that when the Lord comes he will disclose the purposes of every heart.
Originally Jesus spoke these words to very poor disciples. He was inviting them to follow him and trust that God would provide for them. Over 50 years later Matthew wrote his gospel for his community in Antioch. They were a more secure and established community than Jesus’ original followers. They were more like us. To them Jesus’ words would be as challenging as they are to us today.
We cannot serve both God and mammon. We must choose one or the other. Our faith cannot be partial. We must put our confidence in him and not be shaken by anxiety.
In reviewing today’s gospel, we ask: Did we try to serve two masters today and compromise our love for Christ? Though we might be in tight financial situations, did our worrying leave God’s loving providence out of the picture?
Were we so preoccupied with our health that we were less sensitive to the needs around us of family, friends and stranger? Are we spending too much on clothes and personal grooming, becoming insensitive to the very poor who lack decent clothing and health care for their families? Are we overdoing the purchase and consumption of pricey and specialty foods, while not seeing the hungry in our community?
In other words, are God’s concerns our concerns?
For those of us who worry do those worries distract us from seeing God acting graciously towards us? Should I take that new, challenging job? Should I apply to University? Should I get more involved in my parish? Should I go on that “come and see” weekend? All these are big questions, and big risks. But if we don’t take the risk, we’ll never know. We can’t serve two masters. We can’t have certainty and take risks at the same time. But we have a God who will never forget us, who takes care of little birds, the tiniest wildflowers, the most common blades of grass. So, take the risk. Take the plunge. Seek first the kingdom of God and his holiness before all else—confident that we are beloved sons and daughters, and that our Father in heaven will never forsake us.