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February 26 2017 (A) Eighth Sunday of the Year

A. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Confidence and Prudence

The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings).

First Reading (Isaiah 49:14-15). I will never forget you. The message of this brief reading can become all the more forceful for us today if we situate it in its original place within the Bible. We are with the Jewish exiles in Babylon, banished from their homeland. Humanly speaking they had little reason for any hope for a future. Jerusalem, the holy city, was in ruins; the Temple in which their God was believed to reside with them had been destroyed, and Judah their homeland was now but part of the Babylonian empire, without local rulers. Although the prophet had composed the songs of hope in this book to give rise to the spirits of his people, putting before them a glorious future, they were still without hope. They lamented that God had forgotten them. God replies as a loving mother. He, or she, cannot forget them, no more than a mother could forget the baby at her breast. The reading has a powerful message, as potent today as it was when first addressed to the Jewish exiles in the sixth century BC. For this reason it is read in today’s liturgy to go with the Gospel reading where Jesus speaks of the concern and care of his, our, Father in heaven.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 61[62]). In God alone is my soul at rest.

Second Reading (1 Corinthians 4:1-5). The Lord will reveal the secret intentions of men’s hearts. In the chapters preceding this reading, sections from which were read over the past Sundays, Paul was in dialogue with the young Christian community in Corinth where divisions had arisen around groups professing to be attached to well-known Church persons (Paul, Cephas or Peter, Apollos). This was drawing attention from Christ, the one person that counted in Christian life, around whom they should be united. It seems that Paul was being compared unfavourably with Apollos, who was being regarded as a better teacher or orator, even though it was Paul as an Apostle sent by Christ who had founded the Church at Corinth. In this present reading Paul confronts this situation. He regards it as unfortunate, having arisen out of an all too human view of affairs, and a neglect of the true nature of Church and Christian ministry, viewing ministers of the Gospel and leaders of the Church, such as Paul, Apollos and others, in a manner more fitting to the evaluation and comparison of public, political, officials. The Church is a mystery, and such being the case Paul, Apollos and all other Church ministers and leaders should be regarded as ministers of Christ and the Gospel, and as stewards of the mysteries of God entrusted to them. Members of the Church at Corinth would understand quite well all that was employed by the term “steward”. A steward was in charge of an extended household, with slaves and servants. He could not act independently. He was not responsible to those under him, but was responsible to his master, master of the household. Paul was an apostle of Christ and was responsible to God, and in the exercise of his central mandate would not be put out by the judgments or comparisons of anyone (including those in Corinth). Although he had a clear conscience regarding this matter, he knew that a final judgment on him would be given by the Lord. He asks the Corinthians to imitate him, and advises them not to pass premature judgment.

The Gospel (Matthew 6:24-34). Do not worry about tomorrow. The words, so beautifully and poetically put in this reading, should be understood against the principle which introduces them: No one can be slaves to two masters. He will either hate the first or 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 (mamon in the original Greek and Aramaic). The word mamon in Aramaic means property, riches, money. It is here in a sense personified, as a person, a force demanding a person’s full allegiance. From this demand on the mind and soul of a person there follows forgetfulness of trust in God, even forgetfulness of God himself. As a defence against this danger Jesus urges confidence in God, the heavenly Father who cares for every aspect of our human existence, although he mentions explicitly only the undue worry about food, drink and clothing. Jesus’ words are a call on his followers not to forget the values of the kingdom. As the words of Jesus at the end put it: “Set you hearts first on the kingdom of God and on his (God’s) righteousness”. Then other matters will fall into place; they will be seen in perspective.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Confidence and Prudence

There is need for a warning on the dangers arising from mamon, undue reliance on money, riches, in any age. In his advice on what to avoid, when writing to the Colossians (3:5) Paul includes greed, which he says is idolatry. We know that very many today feel no need of reliance on God, on our heavenly Father, with regard to food, clothing or other material things. One’s personal human labour, social and charitable orginizations, attend to these. But even these, excellent as they are, can act as mamon, coming between the believer and the Father in heaven, between them and God, and the righteousness of God, that is his love, and his revealed will for all of us.

            Jesus’ words are still true: the human person is greater that food, drink and clothes, and any other material goods. This Gospel reading is a call to renew faith in the things that matter, things of the spirit, of the love of the living God revealed in Christ and which continues to be proclaimed by the Church. The reading recalls that God, our heavenly Father, is always near to us, in all our needs.

      The Gospel reading does not call on believers to neglect human prudence, and to work for one’s living. It calls on us to unite trust in God with the virtue of prudence.

                              

(For reflections on the Sunday and Feast Day readings see Martin McNamara, Sunday Readings with Matthew: Interpretations and Reflections, Dublin, Veritas, 2016)