Jesus said to his disciples: ‘No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.
‘That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Surely life means more than food, and the body more than clothing! Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single cubit to his span of life? And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these. Now if that is how God clothes the grass in the field which is there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you men of little faith? So do not worry; do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?” It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’
In a world of largely masculine images used to uncover God to us, we are given a touching feminine image today. God, we are told, is faithful to God’s people. Not only is God faithful but that faithful concern is likened to a mother’s love for her child. God, we are taught, cherishes people as a mother cherishes the child at her breast; the fruit of her womb. God does not forget or abandon us any more than a mother can forget the child she gave life to. In this imagery the prophet Isaiah has left us with a pen-picture of an intimate, compassionate, ever-faithful parent-God. The poet Patrick Kavanagh reflected this insight in his poem ‘God in woman’. ‘Surely my God is feminine, for Heaven/ is the generous impulse, is contented/ with feeding praise to the good. And all/ of these that I have known have come from women’.
Christ in his continuing Sermon on the Mount, teaches a spirit of child-like trust. He encourages his listeners and followers to approach God in a manner that reflects the trust, love and faith of a child. He assures us that God will look after us if we allow God to do so. We are encouraged not to put our trust in the world; to practice detachment from all that is earthly; to cease worrying about things that are of no ultimate importance.
The economic collapse that we have observed in recent times has taught many people the truth of some of these maxims from today’s Gospel. We cannot serve both God and money. Serving two masters leads to being torn apart. People have seen money disappear and values tumble in such a manner that they will never fully trust institutions or financial schemes again. We have witnessed the excesses of the ‘seven fat years’ with scandalous expenditure on lifestyle and now we are experiencing the ‘seven lean years’ of the Genesis story and are brought back to re-ordering our priorities. Set your hearts on the Kingdom of God, Christ teaches, and all that you really need will be given to you. Seek righteousness and richness of character – for the rich can often be thought of as really and inwardly poor; poor in love; poor in hope; poor in charity and lacking in humanity.
Christ teaches us not to be over-concerned with tomorrow. ‘Tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own’. All of us seek some kind of security in money and material goods. ‘Money does not buy happiness’ we are told, but as others have observed, ‘it helps to finance the illusion’. Possession of money gives us choices and people like to provide for their families and their futures. The question is one of ultimate trust. Whom do we serve when choices have to be made? Money is a touchstone where morality is concerned. All kinds of principles and virtues can evaporate when money comes into the equation. ‘Every man has his price’ as the maxim puts it. We are tested by the presence or absence of money and by our use of material and earthly resources.
The overarching teaching of Christ in this segment of the Sermon on the Mount is to be found in the mother/child imagery of the first reading. As a mother does not abandon or forget the child of her flesh, so we are told that God does not neglect God’s people, made in God’s image and likeness. In turn, God invites us into a relationship which is child-like in its generosity and simple in its loving trust.