The 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 26, 2017
Click here to listen to this
homily (.mp4 file)
This is the fifth Sunday in a row that the gospel reading has come from
Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount or “Great Sermon,” as some scholars like to
call it. It all started with the part of the sermon we know and love the
best, the Beatitudes, which set the stage for – and make sense out of –
everything else in the sermon, including Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness,
reconciliation, non-violence, and love of enemy. And the Beatitudes
certainly set the stage for today’s passage about placing trust in a loving,
provident God. It’s only the “poor in spirit,” those who know they are
powerless and who depend on God for everything, who are free of the worry
and anxiety that cause so many of us to live our lives fretting and stewing
over all the ‘what ifs?’ What if lose my job? What if I fail my exams? What
if I get sick? What if something happens to one of the kids?
What if my retirement funds run out? And on and on it can go.
As an antidote to the turmoil and anxiety that can
easily consume us, Jesus offers trust. Trust your Father in heaven, he
says, who feeds the birds of the air and fills the fields with flowers,
whose care for them is great but whose care for you is even greater, far
greater. Trust your Father in heaven who will not always shield you from
trials or tragedies, but who will be with you in them and through them, no
But this is a hard teaching, isn’t it? It’s
fine for me to stand up here and blithely speak of trust - I who have been
shielded from life’s more grim realities. I who have never had to deal with
a debilitating or terminal illness, or to live in a war zone or live in fear
of arrest or deportation. I who have more of this world’s goods than I
need and more security than many.
But that doesn’t negate Jesus’ teaching about
trust, even though it may well send you in search of a more convincing and
credible role model than the one speaking to you! And it won’t be
difficult to find one! One may well be sitting next to you in the pew.
Or you may be one yourself. So many of you have had your faith sorely tested
but have managed to hold on because of your trust in a loving God.
Let me tell you about a role model of mine – a
friend, now long deceased, who will always speak powerfully to me about
unwavering trust in God’s providence. I doubt he ever thought of
himself as a role model -- he would have dismissed the thought -– but he was
one highly believable believer.
My friend was a priest. A French priest by
the name of Michel Baron, (“Mike,” we called him). He graduated from the
famed French military academy, St. Cyr, and after a military career,
answered God’s call to the priesthood. I met him in the 1970’s when he came
here to Seattle to teach at our seminary. We served together on the seminary
faculty for several years. I credit Mike with giving the shortest
homily on record (you would have liked him for sure!). One day at Mass,
after reading the familiar passage about the Rich Young Man whom Jesus told
to sell everything, give to the poor, and follow him, my friend closed the
gospel book, looked up at a chapel full of young seminarians, and said,
“Gentlemen, Jesus said everything. And he meant everything.”
Then he sat down.
Of course, saying that was one thing.
Actually doing it, was quite another. So let me finish the story.
A couple of years later, Fr. Baron left Seattle to teach in a seminary in
the small West Africa country of Benin. I offered to take him to the
airport the day he left. When we met in the agreed upon place, he was
carrying a bag that wasn’t much larger than my brief case. I told him
I’d run upstairs to get the rest of his stuff and he said, ‘No, this is my
stuff!’ And it was. All of his stuff. And then I remembered that
ever-so-short homily of his and it all made sense.
Of course, my friends, the challenge is not just to
remember but to replicate, and I’m a long way from that. Maybe you
are, too. But we can be grateful for today’s gospel with its reminder
about serving one master, not two; about trusting in a God who knows our
needs better than we do. And we should be grateful that Lent starts this
week. It’s the perfect time to work on things like trust, and simplicity of
life, and ‘less is better.’ Forty days isn’t long, but it’s long enough to
make a start…!
Father Michael G. Ryan