Homily: 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
A couple of years after I graduated from college, I found myself languishing in life. It was during that time that I made an “adult discovery” of the Faith. Some of you may have never heard this, but each of us has to go through a transition in life when we take ownership of the Faith that was handed to us as children. This often includes doubting and rebellion from the religion that you practiced as a child, but, if engaged honestly (and with the help of others), will result in an acceptance of the Faith taken not as something that one has to do because of familial or cultural pressures, but rather as something that one wants to do because he or she accepts the truth that has been proposed.
I was twenty five years old when I made that “adult discovery” of the Faith. Soon after I bought my first “adult bible” (and here it is). I was proud to have my own copy to study and to pray with. Soon after purchasing this bible I read about how it is helpful when studying the Bible to have tabs at the beginning of each book so as to make it easier to switch between books of the Bible while you are studying. So I went off to the office supply store and bought a couple of sets of tabs with blank labels, and I set myself to the task of “tabbing” my Bible.
I probably spent about four or five hours on this project in total. I had to type up all of the names of the books of the Bible into a template on my computer (there are 73 of them, by the way) and then print them out and separate them. Then I carefully applied all of the tabs at the first page of each book of the Bible. Finally, I had to slide all of the little pieces of paper with the names of the books into the tabs. It was definitely a valuable, albeit a somewhat frustrating, work. (And, as you can see, a very colorful one, too.)
A month or two after I had completed the work, I was in a religious book store and I saw this: a package of pre-printed, adhesive tabs for marking the books of your Bible. I laugh about it now, but I certainly felt silly at the time for having spent so much effort creating tabs, when (for the same cost) I could have purchased the pre-printed ones. In my fervor to do the right thing, I spent a lot of time and energy doing something that would have been a lot easier had I spent just a little time and energy looking for alternatives. And that was just four or five hours of my life. Imagine how much time and energy we spend on worrying about other, more important things in our lives, only to find out that all of our worrying and efforts to control the outcomes rarely produce the results that we hope for.
In the Gospel today, Jesus asks his disciples a series of rhetorical questions. A “rhetorical question” is one that is used in making an argument or in teaching to emphasize a point. It doesn’t expect an answer because it assumes that everyone already knows what the answer should be. It is usually employed as a way to reinforce the answer to another question whose answer is not as immediately clear. For example, someone might ask: “Will there be Mass tomorrow if this massive snowstorm hits?” If I was certain that we would have Mass regardless of the weather I might say: “Is the Pope Catholic?” The assumed answer to my rhetorical question is “yes”. Thus, the answer to that person’s real question is also “yes”.
I’m not so sure, however, that Jesus’ rhetorical questions are quite as effective. As we read the Gospel today we hear Jesus’ familiar admonition to work for God and the building of His Kingdom instead of for ourselves and the building of our own wealth. When we hear that question: “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” we probably hear Jesus asking that rhetorically, and we know that the answer that we are supposed to give is “yes, life is more than food and the body is more than clothing.” Sure, we all know this answer, but the question for us today is, “Do we believe it?”
I mean, let’s just take a look at our lives for a second. In any given week, how much time do we spend thinking about, shopping for, preparing, or eating food? And how many hours do we spend in any given week worrying about what clothes we are going to wear, analyzing others’ clothes, washing and folding our clothes, and/or shopping for new clothes (either in the store or on the internet)? And then let’s think about how much time we spent thinking about and working towards the building of the Kingdom of God. Did we afford any time to that this past week? Better stated, therefore, the question becomes: “Even though we know what the expected answer to Jesus’ question is, do we live our lives as if we believe it?” I suspect that the answer for many of us here is “no”.
Nevertheless, the answer to Jesus’ question is “yes”! Life is more than food and the body is more than clothing! Life is definitely more than food: that is, the temporary satisfaction of bodily needs. Life is for happiness! It is for the pursuit of the true, permanent fulfillment of all our desires: which is communion with God in heaven. And the body is definitely more than clothes: that is, adornment in a world that is passing away. The body, rather, is the means that we have been given for achieving our happiness: that is, for pursuing and experiencing communion in this world in preparation for the communion that we hope to experience in the next.
Thus Jesus’ illustrative examples about the birds and the flowers. If the birds don’t have to plan years in advance to make sure that they will have enough food to eat—because God never fails to provide food for them—and if the flowers of the field don’t have to toil and labor in order to be “clothed” in beauty—because God had already given them their beauty naturally—then why are we so preoccupied with what we will eat and with what we will wear? Are we not more important to God than the birds and the flowers of the field? Well, yes, we are. But do we believe that? Or do we spend our lives making tabs for our Bibles when God wants to give us the tabs, already made up?
My brothers and sisters, if today you find yourself answering Jesus’ question—“Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing”—with “I’m sure it’s supposed to be, but I’m not sure that I believe it”, then I have good news for you. First, life is more than food and the body is more than clothing. Life is for eternal happiness and the body is our means to achieve it. In fact, this eternal happiness has already been won for us by Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross; which is the same sacrifice that we offer here, on this altar. Second, Lent begins this Wednesday; and Lent is a perfect opportunity to turn away from our preoccupations with material things and to grow in trust that God will provide for all that we need if we turn towards the work of building up His Kingdom.
Could a mother ever forget her infant child? Of course not. Neither could God ever forget one of his children. Let us, then, my brothers and sisters, give ourselves to the good work of rebuilding our trust in God, and thus of making His Kingdom known here on earth: the Kingdom in which we hope to live forever in heaven.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – March 1st & 2nd, 2014