On this Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, we receive some great wisdom for living a fruitful Christian life. The prophet Isaiah reminds us of the ebb and flow of the spiritual life. In the 49th Chapter of Isaiah, the first 13 versus speak of the restoring love of God, and how God in his mercy will provide pastures where once there were barren heights; springs of water to those who thirst; food for the hungry; shelter to those exposed to the wind and sun.
Then, today’s reading follows, and the same ‘Zion’ cries ‘The Lord has forsaken me; the Lord has forgotten me.’ How often do we feel the same in our own pilgrimage of faith?! But do not these very same words remind us of Jesus in his moment of abandonment upon the cross? The Prophet Isaiah goes on to say in today’s reading: ‘See, upon the palms of my hands I have engraved you’. Indeed, Jesus allowed each of us to be carved into his hands as he was nailed to the cross. Such a love!
What does Jesus have to teach us in this moment? Jesus teaches us that love bears all things. (1 Corinthians 13:7) Jesus came from the Father, to reveal the love of the Father. This humble love of Jesus is best revealed in his own willingness to ‘abandon himself’ to the Father’s will, which is to be love to us. Jesus allows himself to be completely ’emptied’ so as to be completely ‘filled’ with the love of God, extended to each of us. Recall the beautiful hymn of St. Paul in the Letter to the Philippians:
“Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at.
Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross!”
This love of the ‘abandoned Jesus’ is simply and yet profoundly a love that empties one’s self of ‘self’ to be filled with the ‘Other’ to live completely for ‘others.’ How does that translate for each of us? Let’s keep looking at today’s scriptures.
Psalm 62 puts it simply: “Rest in God alone.” In other words, we are to trust in the fidelity and love of God. This is also the message of today’s Gospel: “Therefore, I tell you, 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? … Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Matthew 6:24-34)
Another key for understanding comes from the beginning of today’s Gospel when Jesus tells his disciples “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Even though this is not ‘specifically’ what Jesus is speaking of in this context, I believe a valid application would be in reference to ‘love of self’ versus ‘love of God.’
This is exactly what Jesus did in his earthly ministry. He chose to always love God, and did so concretely in his tender, merciful love for people. This is what we are also to do. We are to love God first, foremost and always, and to do so concretely in our love for our neighbor. Another key comes from today’s second reading, 1 Corinthians 4: 1-5 when St. Paul tells us: “Be servants of Christ.”
We are servants of Christ when we love one another. This is the basic commandment of the Christian life. The question for us is simply: “Have we begun to truly love?” True love is willing to leave one’s self behind for the good of another; to place one’s life at the service of another. Often, if not always, this creates the cross of each disciple’s life. Do you know what that particular cross is for you? Have you freely, lovingly persevered in allowing that cross to ’empty yourself of self love’ so that you may be filled with the love of Christ?
Who of us does not want to experience the love of God?! The key is loving another. If you want to know God’s love, then love someone else, humbly, silently, tenderly. Chiara Lubich says that when we love another, Christ is present in our midst. When we love another, we open a bit of heaven here on earth. When we love another, we advance the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, let us seek first God’s Kingdom. Let us rest in God. Let us seek God first and above all else, and all else will follow.
Jesus abandoned himself to the Father. Jesus rested in God alone. And because he did, we see Life flow from his open side which is the beginning of the Church. This open side of Christ (and the Church) are like a Font from which we drink the life-giving love and mercy of Christ. Recall the words from John’s Gospel:
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. (…) whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10-14)
This relationship of Christ with his Church is so intimate and rich, that in his homily this past Friday, Pope Francis noted that ‘you cannot understand the Church without Christ, and you cannot understand Christ without the Church.’ The Church flows from Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ.
Finally, we look to Mother Mary as another ‘fruitful’ model of one who ‘rested in God’ and made a complete gift of her life to God in order to conceive and give Christ to the world. An essential part of the Christian life is this dynamic of ‘receiving’ and ‘giving.’ Let us seek Mary’s intercession that we may allow the Lord to ‘carve out’ sufficient space within each of us ‘for him to dwell’ (receive) so that we have the same Treasure to share with others, Christ our Lord.
Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!