1 Corinthians 4:1-5
This Sunday is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time before the Lenten liturgical season. As Sunday lectionary readings, today’s readings invite us to reflect on some of the universal message of Scripture in the light of the Lent which is about to begin.
The passage from Isaiah 49 is a small text from a powerful chapter of Isaiah. In Chapter 49, Isaiah foresees the victorious triumph of God’s people over all who would respond to their fidelity to God by subjecting them to servitude. However, the passage read at this Mass is the tender and comforting reminder that stronger than a mother’s love is the love of God for the people of the covenant. " Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you." This passage, asserting as it does the provident care of God for those who place their trust in God’s fidelity, sets the stage for the longer Gospel reading which will be read on this same Sunday.
That Gospel, from Matthew’s sixth chapter, begins with Jesus’ admonition that a person cannot serve two masters, have divided loyalties, or acquiesce to the values that are opposed to God’s revealed way for us.
Then, in an echo of our First Reading, from Isaiah, the passage continues: "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?"
One is reminded that the origins of Lent in the Church, are as a penitential season to prepare the public penitents for re-admission to the sacramental life of the Church. These penitents would be fasting, and appearing in sack cloth and ashes. "…do not worry about…what you will eat or drink…or…what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?"
However, the message is not a gloomy or morose one. Just as Isaiah’s 49th chapter is about the way God will rescue the people from oppression, so Matthew’s gospel goes on to praise the goodness of God over creation. "Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?…Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow…not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them."
Lent will begin on Ash Wednesday with the seemingly anomalous reading from Matthew, Chapter 6, verses 16-18, which cites Jesus as instructing his followers to hide their fasting from public recognition. Yet the Church emphasizes the importance of Lenten penance, especially the historical custom of fasting. Is this a contradiction? No, not really, because the attitude with which we undertake our Lenten penances is the attitude that Jesus calls for in the concluding verses of today’s Gospel: "So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides."
Let us plan for this year’s Lent to be a time of seeking the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and justice.
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P. is the director of the Missions for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.