Someone said to me once “It is hard to stop worrying because if you try to stop, you end up worrying about worrying.” And that’s the problem isn’t it, if we take absolutely literally what Jesus says in our Gospel today? (Matt 6:24-34) However I am sure that Jesus did not mean us to get worried about all this. Surely his aim is for us to have a better grasp of how much God loves us, that God is with us to support us however difficult the situation is that we face.
Once a week I go to say Mass in a Detention Centre where men face an unknown future as they are threatened with deportation. Some deserve deportation but many are sad and confused by what is happening to them as they seek asylum. At the end of the Mass I offer a private prayer and blessing to anyone who wants to come forward; and usually they all do, kneeling one at a time in front of me hoping in some way that this special prayer will help them face troubles that they can do very little about, except worry. As you can imagine, the kind of prayer I say for them does not ask God simply to take their problems away. That would be foolish wouldn’t it, for prayer is not magic. Prayer is opening up to the will of God, and the will of God is not always for us to have an easy road. After all, Jesus didn’t. He faced the cross; so why should we as his followers think we should have life easy?
My prayer for them therefore goes more like this. “May God bless you and be with you in all the problems and difficulties you face. May you feel his presence supporting and strengthening you, now in this place, and on into your future whatever that may be. God guard you and guide you now and ever.”
In other words, I try through the prayer, to reassure them that God will be with them however hard life is. And whatever our situation, mostly much easier than them, that should be our prayer too. So when Jesus says that God will feed them and clothe them, he does not mean that Christians should sit around doing nothing expecting such things to drop down on them from above. No, rather, he is reminding them and us, that God is with us as we work for our food as well as when we pray, that there isn’t a world of prayer on the one side, and a world of work on the other. God cares about every bit of our lives and the more we open up to his presence in whatever we are doing, the more we will find help of one kind or another.
It is also not the case that when Jesus says “Do not worry about tomorrow” that he means us never to think about what we will face tomorrow or the next day. Once again, Jesus is saying that we will be able to face tomorrow or the next day much more easily if we open ourselves up to the presence and support of God in everything we plan and do, and if we fret too much about tomorrow w won’t recognise what we can do for God now. So Prayer is not about magicing everything right, but about allowing God to work in us and through us whatever we face.
St Paul is very fierce about people who interpret passages like this in the literal sense. He was writing to the Christians in Thessalonika some of whom had decided that they did not have to do any work. He writes – “We command you … to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us… for when we were with you, we gave you this command: .. Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” (2 Thess 3:6-10) That word “tradition” is very important here. It does not mean traditional which often means simply being old-fashioned. No, tradition means the way the Bible and the Faith is understood. We are not meant to make up our own interpretation of what Jesus says, as some people do. We are meant to rely on the way the Faith has been handed down to us. So the Church gives us the Creed to say on Sundays precisely to remind us of the correct way of understanding and being part of what Christians down the centuries have believed.
It is all too easy to simply go our own way, and rely on our own ideas, and make up our own traditions. When we do that then we are no longer relying on God but on our own cleverness. As a priest I am not meant to preach my own opinions but the faith of the Church. Otherwise I am saying that my wisdom is greater than God’s. This can be a hard lesson to learn can’t it? Perhaps this is a resolution we all might make for Lent as it begins this Wednesday. “Help me Lord God, to seek your will in every part of my life, and thus to discover in unexpected places your presence and power at work to support me.”