Is 49:14-15 • 1 Cor 4:1-5 • Mt 6:24-34
“The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. ... With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” — Pope Francis, “The Joy of the Gospel”
Every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving — Black Friday — shoppers wait for the annual doorbuster sales. Some stores did not even wait; some began their sales Thanksgiving afternoon. On Black Friday, shoppers lose their minds — and often their religion! The irony is that research shows that the best bargains are not on Black Friday at all; the best sales and bargains are over the Labor Day weekend! Jesus calls for a different world than this.
Our Gospel is a continuation of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, and it should be heard in that context. What Matthew the writer has done for us in incredible. He has taken Jesus’ words and created what we might call a “Literary Sermon on the Mount.” Matthew condensed and rearranged the teachings and words of Jesus that were spread throughout His ministry and connected them for us so we might forever experience firsthand the theme of His ministry.
Jesus’ original words were addressed to the disciples and to the crowds, but Matthew did not want the power of the Lord’s teaching to be limited to only the original hearers. The way Matthew writes puts everything together in such a way that all his readers become the audience for Jesus’ words!
Sometimes we must begin with the end. At the end of his Gospel, Matthew gives us Jesus’ commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Why? What is the discipleship that Jesus, through Matthew, is calling us to? In one word, we are being called to build God’s kingdom.
Matthew’s Gospel shows an intense awareness of the Roman Empire and its injustice, the huge divide between rich and poor. There are truly “insiders” and “outsiders” in society. Through Matthew, Jesus is calling on disciples to create a new world order in which everything people had known will be turned on its ear so that God’s order will prevail. There should be no outsiders in God’s kingdom.
Jesus was well aware of the plight of ordinary people. Almost no one in that day had the luxury of thinking about the future. For most, day-to-day survival was all-consuming. Given rampant poverty, people worried about how they would find enough food, how they would keep their children clothed, and how they would manage to stay in their homes. They were preyed on by corrupt leaders and worn out by taxes. These all-consuming worries — and we understand them today — took up time that could have been devoted to serving God. The ability to put God first had been co-opted by worry. Jesus thus taught that misplaced priorities created the worst of our worries. We must put our faith in God first.
We might recall the words of Jesus on the cross given to us by Matthew, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We hear these words in our passage from Isaiah. It is a lamentation on behalf of the people in exile in Babylon. (Lamentations begin with saying how bad things are and how hopeless the people feel; however, a lamentation always ends with reasons to have hope.)
When Jesus uttered that cry from the cross, He did not really feel abandoned. As a religious Jew He was praying with a psalm, in this case Psalm 22. It is a psalm that reminds us that God is always present. At the end of Psalm 22, there is rejoicing that “God. . .did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out.” Any Jew who heard Jesus’ words on that day would have known that Jesus had absolute trust that God was present despite appearances to the contrary. Isaiah tells us that, even if a mother could forget her child, God will never forget us.
Pope Francis, in his exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” echoes every sentiment we hear from Jesus today. As the Gospel teaches and as Pope Francis reminds us, we are called to create a different world order. We are called to value the things Jesus values, not what the world values. Trusting God’s desire to care for us does not prevent bad things from happening, but trust in God dispels worry. We cannot let worry co-opt our faith in God.
Take a dollar bill. Printed on the bill are the words, “In God We Trust.” Is it God we trust — or the bill itself? “Mammon” is far more than money though. Mammon is can be a master of our lives that takes away our energy, our love and our hope. Only one Master can give hope!
FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.