27 Feb 2011
“‘Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?’” (Matt 6:27)
In the name …
So it seems like one dictatorship after another is falling upon some pretty hard times over in the Middle East. The latest and craziest one of them all is Gadhafi in Libya. He seems to have actually ordered his air force to fire upon the protestors, and he said in one of his rambling speeches that he’s willing to die for the revolution and the sacred soil of Libya. Pretty impressive sounding words. The big problem with all this rhetoric though is that he and the other dictators like him appear to have an awful lot of money stashed away in secret bank accounts. For all their talk of sacrifice for the people, it seems that they were amazingly well paid. Kind of makes you wonder.
But before we gloat too much over here, I think it’s been pretty sad that when people rise up in opposition to these sad dictators and start hoping for democracy, that we find ourselves the supporters of the dictators and worried about the ones fighting for democracy. I worry about what democracy will lead to over there because I’m afraid they may get rid of one dictator and replace it with another that’s even worse, but I also want to hope that maybe these ordinary people are so fed-up with being shoved around that just maybe they won’t let bad turn to worse. But we have supported the dictators not only because they’re the lesser of evils but because it’s easier to deal with them, and it’s easier to keep the oil flowing with them in place. So when we’re thinking about how money has corrupted some of these characters over in the Middle East, we also have to realize that money has played some unfortunate tricks on us too. We just celebrated Presidents Day last weekend. I wonder what Washington or Lincoln would have to say about our modern day priorities.
Money can corrupt pretty convincingly, and it’s nothing new. It’s why Jesus warned back in His day: “‘You cannot serve God and wealth.’” He’s not talking about being wealthy; Jesus is complaining about serving wealth. When Bill Gates earns a ton of money, but then turns around and sets-up one of the worlds largest charitable foundations to give most of it away, he’s wealthy but he’s not serving wealth. That’s an important difference. When Mubarek in Egypt let only his family and friends make money and the rest of the country was impoverished, when the state of Egypt froze his accounts in Switzerland after they threw him out of power, that’s what it means to serve wealth. He sacrificed all of the stuff that he talked about with those fancy words about protecting his country so that he could get richer and richer. The money was hidden away so that no one could know it was there. He couldn’t enjoy it. He couldn’t do anything with it. But he sacrificed everything else in his life to serve it. That’s the difference between being wealthy and serving the wealth.
We have to be careful about money. It can sneak in and turn things around before we’re any the wiser. Again, that’s why Jesus makes the warning explicit: “‘You cannot serve God and wealth.’” I heard that not counting the money that candidates will spend in the Presidential primaries, it will cost one billion dollars for the Republicans to run their Presidential campaign and one billions dollars for the Democrats. Two billion dollars to run for that office. I worry about those kinds of figures because who’s going to care about the ordinary citizen when politicians need to raise one billion dollars? I hope I’m being too cynical, but I do worry. Money is a pretty coy temptation, and a pretty powerful one, and I have to believe that Jesus knew what He was talking about when He gave us His warning.
But worrying is another one of those distractions that can steal our attention, and that’s probably why Jesus follows up His warning about wealth with His warning about worrying. We need to remember that there are things we can control and things we can’t. Sounds simple enough, but figuring out the difference between the two is a whole other matter. Let me tell you about my trip to the doctor’s office a few days ago. The first thing they do to you when you show up is put you on the scale. I’ve never been too concerned about this. For as long as I can remember I’ve always weighed 158, 162, somewhere in there. I step on the scale last week though and the nurse tells me I weigh 173 pounds. I said to him in a quick, reflexive reply that there was no possible way I weighed that much. He fidgeted around a little bit with the weights on the scale and he corrected himself, telling me that I weighed 172 pounds instead. He was toying with me. I can do things now to bring my weight down, but standing there on the scale no matter what I said wasn’t going to make one bit of difference. There are things we can control and there are things we can’t, and life would be a whole lot easier if we could just figure that out.
Just like Jesus wasn’t complaining about the wealthy, but about serving wealth, so He’s not telling us not-to-worry about the things we can change for the better, He’s telling us not to worry about the things we can’t effect. When we worry about things just for the sake of worrying, we throw away the chance to be content. And to this Jesus says, relax. God has given us life as a gift. Don’t waste it worrying about things that don’t need to be worried about. What an important reminder this is for us from Jesus. It’s not don’t worry about the things we can change. I know I’m giving up some snacks for Lent so the next time I go to the doctor’s that scale is going to tell the truth for a change. Jesus is telling us to trust in God when it comes to things that are bigger than us. If God takes care of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, then, as Jesus says today, “‘Will He not much more provide for you?’” It’s a blessing to be able to trust in God, and it’s a lot more fruitful than throwing away our time and energy on worrying about things that can’t be changed. Maybe that trust in God will even let us make a difference in the things we can change. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo