8th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Isaiah 49:14-15; 1 Cor. 4:1-5; Mt 6:24-34
Living a life of Fears and Anxieties . . .

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 26th February 2017

My brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel Jesus proclaimed, “No one can be the slave of two masters: he will hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn.  You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.”  Scripture scholars tell us that in saying this Jesus wants to remind His disciples and us that only God should be served in its fullest sense, and no one and nothing should be served slavishly. 

We have heard it said that there are people who are the “slave of money;” that instead of possessing money, they are instead now possessed by their money; still there are others who are described as no longer worshipping God, but sadly worshipping money as their God. 

If any of these descriptions describe to some degrees our lifestyles i.e. we spend most of our energies working for our bosses and labouring to climb the corporate ladder in order to earn more money, more so for those who already have more than adequate wealth for ourselves and our children, then we can be sure that the additional wealth that we will earn will not give us any deeper or lasting joys and happiness in life. 

In other words, if what I say makes sense, then while it is understandable that people need to save money for their present and future needs, a basic question that we need to ask ourselves, is “Why are people still chasing after more wealth, when they cannot even spend all that they already have for the rest of their lifetimes?  Or why are those who have more than enough wealth to live somewhat comfortably and even in luxury, are still working so hard to add even more to their wealth, at the expense of living in great anxieties, and “giving up on the need to come for Mass and developing a deeper relationship with God?  Has all these got to do with building a greater social reputation called “success”?  If so, why, because such “success” does not necessarily lead to a proportionate “happiness and fulfilment in their lives?”

It seems to me that one of the main reasons for such anxieties and inconsistencies in peoples’ lives is that most people live in the “insecurities” and fears of their lives instead of developing a deeper trust in the Lord.  When we live an insecure life, we constantly live in fear like: what if they were to suddenly lose their jobs, or fall sick or even die suddenly etc.?  And, if such tragedies were to happen, what would happen to the needs of the families and children in the future?  Who will provide for them? 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, while such anxieties and fears are valid and real, and not wrong and not denounced by Jesus.  But, what Jesus is challenging us in His Gospel today is the exaggerated anxieties and fears that we have created in our lives, so-much-so that our anxieties and fears are taking up most of our attention from the God of our lives, in our daily living.  And we are referring to such persons who rather be engaged in secular activities, or just rest at home after a long week from work than come for Mass; thinking that coming to Mass and spending time in prayer is robbing them of their precious time from them. 

There is a legend which says that there was a mouse who was very afraid of cats. She wished she could become a cat, her wish came true and she turned into a cat. Then she saw a dog and became afraid again and wished she were a dog. Her wish was granted and she turned into a dog. Then she saw a lion and she was terrified by his power and strength and wished she could become a lion so that she would not have to be terrified of the lion. Her wish was granted and she became a lion. Then she saw a man with a gun about to shoot her. You can imagine what happened next. She wished she could become a human and she did. But when she was sitting in her house she then saw a mouse and she was scared of the mouse!  

My sisters and brothers in Christ, we seem to constantly live in unnecessary fears and anxieties that come from our lack of trust in the Lord.  And as such, we create false “securities” in our hearts.  We turn to material comforts to calm our nerves and long for public affirmation and adulation to fill our emptiness, and in the end realise that none of them truly give us the meaning and fulfilment we long for in life.  And, worse still, in chasing after such false worldly securities in life, for those who do not succeed, their anxieties can lead them into depression and eventually even the rejection of God our Father in their lives, instead of begging God for strength to live the challenges of their lives. 

There is a story of Jack who had suffered so much in his life that he had decided to end his life . . . In his anger and pain, he went into the forest near his home end his life.
Just before ending his life, Jack said to God, “Lord, can you give me one good reason not to quit?”
To Jack’s surprise, God answered, “Look around”, He said. “Do you see the fern and the bamboo?”

“Yes”, I replied. “When I planted the fern and the bamboo seeds, I took very good care of them.
I gave them light. I gave them water. The fern quickly grew from the earth.
Its brilliant green covered the floor. Yet nothing came from the bamboo seed.
But I did not quit on the bamboo.  In the second year the fern grew more vibrant and plentiful.
And again, nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not quit on the bamboo.
In year three there was still nothing from the bamboo seed.
But I would not quit. The same in year four.
Then in the fifth year, a tiny sprout emerged from the earth.
Compared to the fern, it was seemingly small and insignificant.
But just six months later, the bamboo rose to over 100 feet tall.
And this is because, the bamboo had spent the five years growing its roots.
Those roots made it strong and gave it what it needed to survive.

You see Jack, I would not give any of my creations a challenge it could not handle.
“Did you know, my child, that all the time you have been struggling, you have actually been growing roots?
As I would not quit on the bamboo, I will never quit on you.
Don’t compare yourself to others.” He said. “The bamboo had a different purpose than the fern.
Yet they both make the forest beautiful. Your time will come, Jack and you will rise high.” “How high should I rise?” I asked.
“As high as you can rise, with my strength in you.”
“Yes, Jack, Give me glory by rising as high as you can.”

Jack being enlightened by the Truth of what God, Our Lord had said to him, left the forest, realizing that actually God had never given up and will never give up on him, because He loves every one of us deeply and personally.

As Jack finally returned to his home, he found a renewed joy in his heart and the wisdom of the Spirit whispering within him saying, “Jack, never regret a day in your life . . . and he began to realise that “Good days give you happiness; bad days give you experiences; both are essential to life.  Serenity isn’t freedom from the storm, but peace within the storm.”

And so my brothers and sisters in Christ, as I draw our reflection to a close, let us be reminded that when Jesus in today’s Gospel cautions us not to be the slave of money and not to worry too much about our need for food and clothing because God who cares for the sparrows, the birds in the skies and the flowers in the fields will certainly care for you infinitely more.  In proclaiming this, Jesus is not making a moral point, but an imaginative appeal and a poetic exaggeration to inculcate an attitude that we all should have of God – i.e. that God must be the centre of our lives, and must be the deepest desires of our hearts.  And, when this is so we will dare to trust him so wholeheartedly that Jesus can then become the solid foundation of our lives and that we can serve Him as the deepest fulfilment of our lives.  An indication that we have such wisdom, is when we are able to reflect on the meaning of our lives and have such similar insights as in the following poem.

Many people will walk in and out of your life,
but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.
Anger is only one letter short of danger.
If someone betrays you once, it's his fault;
If he betrays you twice, it's your fault.
Great minds discuss ideas;
Average minds discuss events;
Small minds discuss people.
God gives every bird it's food,
But He does not throw it into it's nest.
Beautiful young people are acts of nature,
But beautiful old people are works of art.
Learn from the mistakes of others.
You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.
The tongue weighs practically nothing,
But so few people can hold it.
He who loses money, loses much;
He who loses a friend, loses more;
He who loses faith, loses all.

(Re: Stories are adapted from the homilies of Fr Tommy Lane)


Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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