Do not worry…Do not worry…Do not worry.
In the name of the Father…
I wonder if you got the message of today’s gospel? It’s hidden in there somewhere
isn’t it? Do not worry…Do not worry…Do not worry. The question, of course, is
how? How are we supposed not to worry when we live in a society that keeps us in a
state of perpetual anxiety not by accident but by design? When all our lives depend
upon an economic system that is profoundly unstable not by accident but by design,
in order that some might get rich at the expense of others, that some might have
more food and clothing than they need while others go hungry and cold. How are we
supposed not to worry when the lifeblood of that economy is the creation and
exploitation of unfulfilled and unfulfillable desires?
Listening to Jesus’s words in today’s gospel, it might also occur to us to wonder
whether the Church has really taken this commandment of the Lord’s to heart. It’s a
bit awkward to be confronted with this gospel, in which we are told not to worry
about what we eat or drink or about our bodies, with the season of Lent just around
the corner, just as we are gearing up to have a good long 40-day worry about our
lives, especially about what we eat and drink and about our bodies.
I suspect, however, that to read this repeated refrain of Jesus’s as a
straightforward command is to misconstrue its purpose. As usual, a little context
helps. The text of today’s gospel comes from that part of the Sermon on the Mount
when Jesus is apparently giving his disciples a series of commands about fasting,
prayer and giving alms. “When you pray” and “When you fast” and “When you give
alms”, he tells them, “do not be like the hypocrites” who do all these things only to be
seen by other people.
Although he appears to criticising some unspecified others, however, what Jesus
is actually doing is teaching his disciples to examine themselves, to be alive to the
possibility that when they fast or pray or give alms the one they are really serving is
themselves. In other words, he is beginning to school them in the practice of
discernment. He is teaching them to recognise the conflicted allegiances at work in
even their most pious actions, and to begin to grasp what this has to tell them about
where their true loyalties really lie.
And it is only when we see this that we can begin to see the next two
commandments of Jesus — “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” and
“Do not worry” — in their proper context. Because, taken together, what these two
commandments constitute is a near-infallible means of discovering what a person
really cares about, where their true allegiance lies. “Do not store up for yourselves
treasure on earth” he tells them “for where your treasure is there your heart will be
also”. In other words, if you want to know what a person really cares about, if you
want a sure-fire way of bypassing all the subtle evasions of the human heart, then the
quickest and most reliable way is to take a look at that person’s latest bank statement.
And, in essence, the procedure for the second of these commandments “Do not
worry”, is the same. If you want to know what a person really cares about then ask
yourself what they spend their time worrying about and you will have your answer.
And yet there is a difference, because what we discover when we ask ourselves what it
is we worry about is not so much what we care about, but what we are afraid to lose.
And there is all the difference in the world between what we care about and what we
are afraid to lose. It is the difference between the logic of the desert and the logic of
the Cross, the season of Lent and the Paschal Mystery.
I hope by now it is clear why at least the first part of this portion of the Sermon
on the Mount may have been offered to us in the run up to the season of Lent.
Because this process of discovering what it is we really care about, where our true
allegiance lies, is exactly what the season of Lent is for. It is for this reason that we
travel with Christ into the desert, to discover the truth about ourselves, to discover
who it is we are really serving. And for us that means confronting the great disparity
between what we ought to care about, and what we actually care about, between the
person we claim to be and the person we really are.
But the commandment we are given in today’s gospel takes us further than this,
because Jesus does not tell us not to worry about selfish or unspiritual things, but to
worry instead about the things that really matter. He says do not worry. About
anything. Good or bad. Spiritual or unspiritual. And that is because the logic of
today’s gospel is not the logic of the desert, the logic of discernment and
discrimination, but the logic of the Cross, and the logic of the Cross is not concerned
with discriminating between selfish and unselfish motivation, between spiritual and
unspiritual preoccupations, it is concerned only with what we are afraid to lose, to let
go of, whatever it may be. If we worry about it, then we are afraid to lose it, and
whatever we are afraid to lose stands between us the Cross. And so the Cross says to
us not only “Do not worry about food and drink and clothing”, but “Do not worry
about your spiritual life”. “Do not worry about your sin”. “Do not worry about your
salvation”. Because in the shadow of the Cross, the most sanctified of all our worries
is just one more thing we are afraid to lose, to let go of. And if we are not finally
willing to let go, to lose all that we have, then we are not able to follow where Christ is
leading us, not only into the desert, but to the Cross.
Do not worry…Do not worry…Do not worry.