8th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)
Richard Carlson was one of the most popular motivational speakers of the twentieth century, considered an expert in happiness and stress reduction. I generally don't go in for motivational speakers, this Sunday's gospel reading reminds me of the line that made Carlson famous: "Don't sweat the small stuff... and it's all small stuff!"
Jesus tells us not to worry. He wants us instead to trust in God. He uses the examples of birds and wild flowers. God cares for these creatures of nature and provides for all of their needs. And aren't you and I much more important to God than birds and flowers? Why should we doubt that God will provide for our needs with even greater care?
But birds don't have test and exams. Birds don't have three papers due on Monday. Birds don't have to work two part time jobs to supplement their student loans. Birds don't suffer through breakups, fight with their parents, or worry about finding jobs after graduation.
I know from experience that college can be a time of high anxiety. I've stood on that precipice of adulthood, knowing you are only a couple of short years from grown-up responsibility, and having no idea how to go about finding a job, or a spouse. It can be hard envisioning yourself paying a mortgage when you are still learning how to balance a check book. When I was preparing to strike out on my own, the very idea of insurance filled me with dread! How can you not be worried about the future?
But something happened to me in college that changed my perspective. I found faith. God became the biggest thing in my life, and judged by the scale of His majesty, all my worries became "small stuff."
Don't get me wrong. Faith is not a magic pill that makes all your problems go away. Faith is no guarantee of health or wealth, friendship or security. We don't believe in the "Prosperity Gospel" peddled by TV preachers who promise fancy cars and luxury homes if you only pray hard enough. Our Lord is the Christ who told His followers that they would be persecuted and commanded that they take up their cross and follow Him to Calvary. Faith in God does not mean you will never suffer in life. You will.
Former Czech president Vaclav Havel once said that, "Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, no matter how it turns out." I think the Catholic version of that quote could read, "Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that God works all things for good" (Rom 8:28).
There are Christians of deep faith who go hungry. There are Christians of deep faith who lack decent clothing. More astonishingly, there are Christians of deep faith who intentionally give up their material possessions to embrace a life of poverty. I'm thinking of the Franciscans and other similar religious orders. They do this because they know that God is the greatest thing in life, and in light of His love, even good and necessary things like food and clothing seem small in comparison.
Jesus tells us in our gospel reading, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?" Food and clothing are good and important things. But they are not the most important things. Jesus tells us what is most important. "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness."
If our relationship with God is the most important thing in our life; if we allow His kingdom to reign in our hearts, then we will know happiness and peace even amidst poverty, even amidst sorrow, even amidst illness -- even when we fail that exam, or don't get into that grad school we applied to. We will have hope, not that things will turn out well, but that we will be in God's friendship no matter how things turn out. We will know that whatever hardships befall us in this life, nothing can ever take God's love away from us. We will know that the suffering endured in this life is but a moment's pain in light of the eternal joy of our blessed reward in the life to come.
In short, Jesus tells us not to sweat the small stuff. And compared to our relationship with God, everything is small stuff.