8 Ordinary Time
Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Homily by Father Alex McAllister SDS
The Gospel today is all about our attitude towards money and material possessions. It begins with a warning that we cannot serve God and money. The word money used to be translated as Mammon.
Mammon is an unusual but extremely old word and originally has an Aramaic origin which is reputedly the language that Jesus himself spoke. It literally means money and possessions but it has a negative connotation and so it actually means wealth in which one puts one's trust and which could be classified as a false God.
Clearly this is something that is contrary to the Gospel. We can all think of people who place all their trust in material things whether they themselves are rich or poor. Pursuing the acquisition of possessions to the exclusion of other more spiritual values is something which ends up destroying our very humanity.
Jesus uses the word slave to heighten the contrast between our relationship with God and money. According to him we should be a slave of God rather than a slave of money. Presumably he is implying that being a slave of God is actually a liberating experience, one which brings us true freedom and fulfilment, while becoming a slave of money means being oppressed by the weight of our material possessions and ending up captive to them.
It is obvious that mankind is meant for better than this. We are at root spiritual creatures even if we have one foot firmly planted on this earth. Our calling is a high one; we are not meant to cling to material possessions but rather to the things of the spirit and we are invited to soar up to the heavens. Our calling is to embrace a life of virtue and to live our life with the values of faith, hope and charity at its core.
After uttering this condemnation of attachment to material possessions Jesus goes on to talk about the correct attitude for Christians to adopt. In short it is to depend utterly on Divine Providence. He tells us that if we do so then God himself will ensure that we have enough to eat and enough to clothe ourselves with.
He gives us two examples: the birds who do not sow or reap and the flowers who do not spin or weave. These correspond to the differing roles of men and women in the ancient world; it is men who toil in the fields to provide food and the women who weave the textiles for clothing.
The birds and the flowers have no choice, they simply do what they were made to do and God ensures that they are provided for.
So therefore with us, we should do what we are made to do and then we will find all we need to live on. Of course, as human beings, our fundamental task is to give praise and worship to God. If we do this then God tells us that he will give us what we need.
We must be careful here because this does not mean that God will make us rich and neither does it mean that we should do nothing for ourselves. No God gives us health and strength and intelligence and we need to use these attributes to make a living and to provide for our families.
What Jesus is talking about here is our fundamental attitude or outlook as human beings. He does not mean that we should ignore the world of material possessions, he does not tell us to sit back and do nothing waiting for pennies to fall from heaven.
Idleness is the very last thing that God wants. He wishes us to be industrious and to work hard for the things we need but to do so with an eye constantly on him and on the values of his Kingdom.
At root what God wants is for us to have a right relationship with the things of this world as well as with the things of heaven. What he wants is for us to have everything in its correct perspective. What he wants is for us to have the right attitudes in life and so to come in due time to the Kingdom of Heaven.
One of the most important things for a Christian parent to do is to inculcate in their children the correct approach to life. Children need to be helped to acquire the right attitudes in life so that they grow up to be good people; people who know how to live a human life in the most fulfilling way possible.
It is important to help children to get their relationship with the material things of our world in the right perspective. We all know that children constantly clamour for this or that new thing that their friends have. We are well aware that they want all the latest gadgets and other fashionable items. We also know that the advertising industry is well aware of how to manipulate them. It is important therefore that Christian parents have their own priorities in the correct order so that they are able to hand on to their children the right values they need to live their lives in a responsible way.
For twelve years I was the chaplain to a women's prison. I often met women in the prison who when I asked what they were in for would tell me that they were caught by the police when they stole some £120 trainers for their son or daughter. This is, of course, a shocking example; but we all know of people who will beggar themselves to provide articles for their children that are entirely unnecessary.
It is good for us from time to time to think carefully what attitudes we are handing on our children intentionally or unintentionally, consciously or unconsciously. Occasionally it is good to review our situation and the attitudes we are passing on to our children.
Many years ago, when one of my sisters got married she and her husband chose this very passage for the Gospel reading at their wedding. When I asked them about it because it was so unusual, they said that they had chosen it because they felt that it included the approach to life that they wanted their marriage to represent.
Christians should live their lives with a real dependence on God's Providence. We should place our trust in the God who created us, we should realise that he continues to care for us whatever our circumstances and that putting our trust in worldly things is absolutely futile.
Dependence on worldly things inevitably ends up in pride and arrogance. Dependence on God ends up in love, sharing, doing good, being generous and so on. In other words, on all those things that are sure to lead us into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Further on in Matthew this is all summed up in one simple little phrase which encompasses the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus: ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.' If we take these words as our inspiration there is very little that can go wrong in life. If we take these words to heart then our attitudes will be the right ones and they will ultimately lead us to God's Kingdom of love, justice and peace.