Though today’s Gospel is from Mark, let me refer us to Matthew’s beautiful passage of Jesus speaking about God’s care for us:
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
And as God foretold through Elijah, the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry in the widow’s house.
So in the Gospel, Jesus admonishes those who are ostentatious in their wealth and commends the widow who gives all she had.
Is Jesus talking about money? Wealth? Poverty? Station in life? In an off-hand way, yes. All throughout the Gospels there are comparisons between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the haves and the have-nots.
Luke, in the first two of the four Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Plain, quotes Jesus as saying:
Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled.
And the first two woes that follow:
Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
And also from Luke: You cannot serve both God and Money.
This teaching, then, seems to me to be what is behind today’s readings. And the question is, what are we to pay attention to?
Years ago, when I was working as a management consultant, we used to advise our clients that they could not improve their business if they were not paying attention to the things that were important. Pretty basic, huh? But you would be surprised how many companies paid very little attention to the things that would improve their bottom line. They measured hours worked, the number of products made, precisely how much each employee should receive as a wage…almost everything but how their customers thought they were doing, how satisfied they were, and whether they would buy from the company again.
How many of us are like the scribes in long robes seeking places of honor at banquets? And even if we are not manipulating the law to expropriate the houses of widows, are we not daily concerned with our livelihood, our income, our shelter?
But at this point we hear those persistent voices in our head saying we must plan for the future, take heed of our finances, and care for our families. And then this verse comes to mind: “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
So what is a person to do?
What do we pay attention to? Well, his yoke may be easy and his burden light…but taking them up is pretty tough, wouldn’t you say? No really, what do we pay attention to? Maybe in the case of money, security, shelter we should actually be thinking of Jesus’ words as exercises, just as we exercise to keep our strength. Maybe the answer is to work every day at paying attention to the things of heaven, and not of this earth.
No matter how good we are at multi-tasking, we can only pay attention to a few things at a time. So let’s resolve to exercise our love of God by paying attention to him throughout the day. We have St. Paul urging us on: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Let’s resolve to pay attention the things that really matter, those things that we know, deep in our souls, that bring us peace and comfort.
Sure, the stresses of the day will intrude. But we can only experience the easy yoke and the light burden if we take them up. It’s that taking up that we must give some effort to.
One last quote, from Jeremiah:
“Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understand and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.”
Lord, help us to take up our cross and focus ahead on knowing and loving you. Let our thoughts and actions be in your direction and let us have faith that your yoke will be easy and your burden light. Amen.