Epiphany 8A

Last revised: October 9, 2014
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EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY — YEAR A
PROPER 3 (May 24 – May 28) — YEAR A / Ordinary Time 8
RCL: Isaiah 49:8-16a; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34
RoCa: Isaiah 49:14-15; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

Isaiah 49:8-16a

Resources

1. Tony Bartlett, the ninth study in a series on Second Isaiah (on 49:1-26). These studies are among the finest examples of how Mimetic Theory is a key to opening the revelation of Scripture.


Matthew 6:24-34

Resources

1. Richard Rohr, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount, see especially pp. 129ff. Rohr combines three perspectives that are immensely helpful to me: Catholic spirituality in the tradition of Thomas Merton, the Emerging Church, and Girardian anthropology (the only footnote in the entire book, p. 4, acknowledges his gratitude to the work of Girard and Gil Bailie).

2. Brian McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus, uses Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount as a centerpiece by making it the most-oft cited passage in the book, including two chapters devoted to it — Ch. 14, “Kingdom Manifesto” and Ch. 15, “Kingdom Ethics,” with a good summary of the entire Sermon on pp. 135-36. McLaren sees three main realities of our worlds that God’s reign is calling us to resist: money, sex, and power, and so comments on this portion of of the sermon:

When we live for money, sex, and power, we will always experience anxiety, and Jesus turns to this subject next. He invites us to consider wildflowers and common birds — one imagines him pointing to some growing nearby or flying overhead as he speaks — reminding us that God cares for them and we are more valuable to God than they are. So why worry? I am tempted here to go on a long excursion about how this section of the manifesto invites us to conceive of the kingdom of God as a beautiful web of kinship that, in ways that St. Francis saw more clearly than we normally do, makes birds and flowers our sisters and brothers. We could explore the spirituality of ecology in this context and conceive of the kingdom as the ultimate ecosystem that integrates all of life — the parts that we would call scientific and physical and the parts that we would call spiritual and invisible. But that would be an excursion from the main thrust of Jesus’ line of thought here, which addresses the anxiety we feel when money, sex, and power hold our attention and affection rather than God and God’s kingdom.

Anxiety about this stuff is a waste of time, Jesus says. And worse, it distracts us from what matters most. “Is not life more important than food,” he asks, “and the body more important than clothes?” (v. 25). If you are confident that “your heavenly. Father knows that you need” food, drink, clothing (v. 32), then you can focus on the most important thing of all. What is that? We shouldn’t be surprised at Jesus’ climactic answer — it’s the kingdom of God: “But seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, clothing, etc.] will be given to you as well” (v. 33). There’s a way of living that surpasses that of the religious scholars and Pharisees, Jesus has promised. It’s the life of seeking first God’s kingdom — of making God’s kingdom our first priority. (pp. 134-35)

3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 4), a section entitled “The Simplicity of Carefree Life,” pp. 161-68.

4. Michael Hardin, The Jesus Driven Life, has a substantial treatment of the Sermon on the Mount, the fourth section of Chapter 1 on, “The Life of the Kingdom of God,” pp. 48-58. Hardin comments on this portion of the sermon:

Second, the Sermon calls us to a life where we trust God to take care of us. This may seem obvious at first, but the reality is much more difficult than we might imagine. In the fall of 2008 when the global economy collapsed people were glued to their news stations as job losses increased, companies went bankrupt or had to be bailed out, the stock market decreased by 50% and we were told this was the worst economic scenario we had seen since the Great Depression. For many, it felt like the end of the world. Everyone, including Christians began to worry.

Jesus enjoins his disciples “Stop worrying” (Matt 6:25ff). When we worry we feel like the circumstances of our life have gone out of control, we are no longer able to provide for ourselves. We lose our sense of independence and what we had planned, the way we saw the future, now is lost. So we worry and fret and bite our fingernails. Why do we do this? We worry because we think that we alone are responsible for our existence, that in the grand scheme of things there is no one else who will love us.

Yet, Jesus insists, God loves us and will take care of us. The witness to this is the fact that God has provided for the birds of the air. Life on our planet has been sustained for billions of years, not by a distant aloof God, who simply wound up the universe according to immutable laws, and then let it go. Life has been sustained because God is personally involved in all of God’s good creation of which we are the most significant part. We are those who have been made in the ‘image of God.’ Are we not worth more than two sparrows? Surely we are and for Jesus this is the point.

I have several bird feeders around my home. Every day I watch as they come to feast: robins, finches, mockingbirds, starlings, mourning doves, cardinals and yes, lots of little sparrows. Every day I am reminded that God feeds them. When I am tempted to worry about whether or not God will feed me, the birds are my daily reminder that God cares for all life, that I am not alone, that the God of Jesus is not a miser. Yet what about those today in African refugee camps that lack food? What about the homeless in my own community? Does not God care for them as well? Yes he does. Just like I put bird feed in the feeder, so also, as a member of the church I am called to feed the poor and needy.

Life is not about hoarding wealth but about spreading it around. God can act to see to it that the creation is nourished, but he uses us humans to see to it that our fellow humans have their needs met. We live in a world where the poor are daily reminders that we too have an obligation to meet, not only to ourselves but also to one another. In order to do this we, like Jesus, need to eschew three things: comfort, safety and security.

We, like Jesus, will be tested to see whether we trust God for these three things (Matt 4:1-11). Jesus when tempted to secure his own comfort did not turn stones into bread (not for nothing that we refer to ‘comfort food’). He knew that he was important to his Abba, and so refused to use his power to meet his own needs, to satiate his hunger. When tested to make sure that God would keep him safe from harm, Jesus refused to force God’s hand. The temptation to hurl himself off the Temple roof is significant in that the Temple was where God was thought to reside. Jesus is on God’s home turf, yet he refuses to prove that God will keep him safe. Finally, Jesus refuses to worship the prince of darkness, of violence, when offered the right to be King of the entire world. Had he done so, Jesus would himself have become the principle of violence-keeping security. He would have grasped his power to rule over all and therefore secured himself at the pinnacle of hierarchy. Thankfully, his way of making peace is not the way of the violent world (John 16:33). Jesus utterly refused to go in this direction instead living out what he will enjoin on his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus finds his comfort, safety and security in the giving of himself for others and in the care and vindication of his Abba who brings life from death. (pp. 53-54)

5. Link to a sermon, “How Not to Be Anxious by Loving Our Enemies.”

6. Andrew Marr, Abbot of St. Gregory’s Abbey (Three Rivers, MI) is a long-time reader and writer on Mimetic Theory and in his blog, “Imaginary Visions of True Peace,” wrote a brief essay citing this passage in 2014, “The Five Kinds of Prayer (4): Thanksgiving.”

7. Other good books for parish ministry on the Sermon on the Mount: Clarence Jordan, Sermon on the Mount; Glen Stassen, Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for Grace and Deliverance.

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