Fr Pat Colbourne OFM Cap
At the beginning of his public life Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights to be tempted by the devil (Mtt 4:1). The three temptations recorded in the Gospel all have this in common that they involve temptations to self-sufficiency or self-reliance. Jesus is tempted to provide for his own material needs by supplying his own nourishment. The devil tells Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle of the Temple so that he will have the emotional satisfaction of knowing God will support him. Finally his spiritual need for power and to be in control is tempted when the devil showed him all the cities of the world and promised he would command them if he worshipped the devil.
When I was in High School an inspector of schools concluded his visit by wishing all the students well in the future. He said there was only one person who to make us succeed and then asked the class who was that. I responded God. He said:"You would hardly call God a person would you?" "No," he said, "it is yourself."
We set a great store on being self-made in this world. We suffer emotionally when we lose our independence, when we become insecure, when our future is uncertain. Indeed much mental illness has insecurity as its basis. Every day we feed the victims of material poverty and share their stress. Emotional stress comes even to the rich. The Israelites had food but complained that its taste had become boring. When they complained of a lack of water, even Moses struck the rock twice and was punished for his lack of faith by being denied entry into the Promised Land. Our need for power expresses itself in everyone who needs to be in control. It is very difficult for us to abandon ourselves to someone else and to trust anyone.
Yet we soon find out that we have to trust and rely on others and as we get older reliance on other is forced upon us whether we like it or not. Our fear of death in the end is a fear to lose self-sufficiency, self-control, autonomy.
At the end of the day faith and trust are spiritual qualities which cannot be bought. The Gospel puts this most beautifully in the story of the lady who had been sick for years and who had spent a lot of money on doctors but without being cured. It was only when she touched Christ's clothing with trust that she was cured. When she showed Christ that she had confidence in him she was healed.
God seeks our confidence. In the desert the Israelites were supposed to gather only as much manna as they needed for the day as an act of confidence that God would perform the miracle again the next day.
St Matthew (6:26-34) has a long and familiar passage on this subject, but it is worth reading slowly and carefully.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body what you will wear.
Having told us not to worry about our life he continues
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Obviously Our Lord considers both life and the body to be important. He tells us not to worry about them for two reasons. Firstly, he does not want us to become absorbed in them and then have no energy to think about spiritual things. Secondly he wants to surprise us with his generosity in providing for us. There is nothing more frustrating than a friend who will not allow you to surprise them with a gift. God has something unexpected in store for us. We should relax and let him supply it. Whether we are a king or a pauper we should let God surprise us. St Paul says we should conduct ourselves as people who own nothing yet possess everything (2 Cor 6:10).
Matthew continues providing examples of the surprising generosity of God:
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these.
His estimation of worry is interesting; And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life span? This is the kind of thing the Gentiles do. Your Father knows that you need all these things.
Then he comes to the vital point: Strive first for the kingdom of God
Look all round you and you will see how God provides for beings of passage and so don't worry about what is passing. Look at the bigger picture and gain a new perspective. Break the bonds of what is temporary, Defy time and reach for eternity. Be a slave to nothing and grasp freedom.
In Luke the comparison is with sparrows (Lk 12:17) and counting hairs on your head.
Perhaps we get some insight into the power of the figure of the lilies of the field by going back to Genesis and the scene in which Isaac blesses his son Jacob. Isaac was old and his eyes were dim and he could not see. He wants to make sure something significant will outlive him so he called his son Esau to hunt for his favourite meal. Rebekah substitutes Jacob for his older brother and before Isaac blesses Jacob he says: "Come near and kiss me, my son". So he came near and kissed him; and he smelt the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said, "Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed." The lilies of the field are truly blessed by God.
Matthew returns to the theme of trust a little later in his Gospel when he talks about the efficacy of prayer (Mt 7:7).
"Ask and it will be given you, search and you will find, knock and it will be opened for you. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or of the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?"
God gives good gifts. There is no mention of us having to deserve them. In fact every day before communion we repeat the words of the Centurion:"Lord, I am not worthy!" Christ had not found such faith in Israel.
Nor is there any mention of having special access to God, a direct line a privileged route of approach. In Luke (18:7) the widow eventually got what was her due from the unjust judge. "And will God not grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?"
On the subject of who are worthy to mix with our Blessed Lord Luke has a very beautiful passage (15:1):Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying. "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." The occasion is an introduction to the parable of the lost sheep over whom there is much more rejoicing in heaven than over the ninety-nine. What is particularly interesting is what the tax collectors and sinners are doing. They are listening to Jesus. We too do well to listen rather than speak. Listening will bring peace whereas talking brings preoccupation. Simeon watched and listened and at the end could say: "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel".
God's door is open to all. You will remember when they were bringing infants to Jesus and his disciples stopped them, but he said"Let the little children come to me."
There is no situation that is beyond God. Remember Martha at her brother's grave: "Even now I know that whatever you ask God will grant."
Does this mean that trust in God will dispel all our difficulties. Absolutely not! St John is very clear about this in his Gospel. Christ says, "I have said this to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world." We do not abstract ourselves from life and its ups and downs. We don't assume a superior attitude to others as if we were untouchables. We are caught in everyday experiences and we suffer and are sensitive. But we do gain an inner peace, composure and dignity that turns us back towards God in all our needs. John's Gospel has Peter put it so well, "Lord, to whom shall we go!"
Contact: Jack Smith: phone 61-2-62583824 firstname.lastname@example.org