Isaiah 49: 14–15; 1 Cor. 4:1–5; Matt. 6:24–34
When my daughter was young, I developed a very acute sense of awareness of the sounds in our house. Prior to that, I never had a problem falling or staying asleep. But since I’ve become a father, I am ever attuned to what happens in and around my household or even a block away. That hasn’t changed since she has moved out of the house. I doubt my experience is very different from other parents. Our priorities change. We become less focused on ourselves and more focused on the well being of others. Sometimes our love for our families and neighbors costs us and effects our health and overall sense of well being.
For you young people who stay out really late or ignore the frantic calls and text messages to your cell phones, keeping your parents awake with concern, there’s no need for you to feel any remorse when you contemplate how they sacrifice their health and well being on your behalf. It’s all part of the joy of parenthood.
Now I’m framing the reflection this way not to lay a guilt trip on our young people. That’s just a happy accident of choosing this topic tonight.
But I want to emphasize what our first reading and gospel stress. We need to depend on our Father for what we need. We need to shake off what the world tries to sell us and to entrust our care to God. We need to put our trust in Him and not the passing things of this world.
Isaiah 49 recounts Israel’s lament that it has been abandoned by God, and I have no doubt that they felt that way! Isaiah’s prophecies were written over a long period of time. This particular passage from our readings today comes from the time of the Babylonian Captivity, when Israel would have been mourning the loss of the temple and exile from their home. But also in this part of Isaiah are the many allusions to the suffering servant and to the coming messiah. Jesus himself alludes to many of these passages, and the commentary in the Revised Standard Version of the bible mentions that some scholars go as far as to call Isaiah an evangelist—like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
So as Israel laments, Isaiah tells them, “God has not forgotten you. Your savior is coming. Your salvation is near.” God knows them and what they need better than they do, but we humans are frail, and we don’t suffer well when we don’t understand the meaning of suffering. We must remember that God’s time is not our time. He doesn’t reply as soon as we cry out because sometimes the only way we can learn is by our experience. Jesus did not promise us wine and roses (or Mtn. Dew and Heath bars for the young people in our audience). He didn’t promise that we’d sail through life, but he promised us the cross, here, as we travel through this temporary life. Our reward can either be short lived here or eternal there.
The responsorial antiphon today is a simple plea to self: “Rest in God alone, my soul.” It’s a reminder for us to place ourselves in God’s care rather than to rely on our own strength. That is challenging for all of us and almost impossible for some in their difficult circumstances. You might have heard one person try to console another by saying, “God never gives us more than we can handle”—that trite pietism that we often reach for when we don’t know what to say. That is simply not true for two reasons. First of all, God does not give evil to us in our lives. He will allow it because it’s the result of sin in our world. Second, God is not doling out shares of misery based on the amount of abuse that we’re all willing to take. That portrays God as a cruel task master who takes part in and drives our misery, as a thug. He will allow those few saints in our midst to shoulder burdens that most of us could not bear.
God does not give us misery, but he will allow us to experience the full weight of misery that our fallen human nature has incurred. He doesn’t do it to punish us but to allow us to accept and realize the concept of sin and to choose another way, the Way he provided in His Son, who also suffered unimaginably in our place. God allows it so that we may come to put ourselves wholly in His care and rely solely on His strength.
We have misery and death because our first parents, Adam and Eve, chose their wills over God’s. They wanted the knowledge of good and evil. Satan, in the form of the serpent, encouraged them to take it—to take what God had forbidden. And God allowed them to suffer the consequence, which was the loss of God’s grace and presence in us.
That God-shaped whole in us is the result of our parents’ original sin, their desire to be in control, their desire to be God. That God-shaped hole makes us restless, and we can respond in many ways. Some of us try to fill it with temporary happiness: we can possess lots of things, we can party like it’s 1999—or whatever that latest projected doomsday is. We can seek power and control over others. But if we put our trust in the things of this world, we will always be empty, always have that desire, and always have that God-shaped hole.
I’m going to lean on a doctor of our Church, who is so frequently quoted and so often misunderstood, St. Augustine. In his Confessions, the very first autobiography in western literature, he wrote in the opening paragraph, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (1.1). As long as we rely on our own strength, our own will, our own desire and intent… our own passion and personal inspiration… that God-shaped hole will remain and we will be ever restless.
Jesus had both human and Divine will. He had the option of choosing with His human will, yet He submitted his human will to His Divine will in the sacrifice we will commemorate in a few minutes. Through it, He brought about our salvation. Unless we submit our will to God, we can only do short-lived temporary things, and they will never fill that God-shaped hole. The Psalm that clergy and religious recite in our Liturgy of the Hours reminds me of the source of my discontent and its resolution:
Why are you cast down, my soul?
Why groan within me?
Hope in God: I will praise Him still,
My savior and my God.