“Keep focused!” the sign read. It was located above the locker room door which led to the basketball court. The coach had the sign placed there to motivate his players to “stay on game.” He first got the idea after a game when the team seemed to be “off.” They were not getting the plays right. The moves seemed uncoordinated. “They were all over the place,” the coach said, “and I don’t just mean physically, but mentally as well.” After the game he talked to the team. The words that came to mind were “Keep focused!”
Jesus tells us today that we should “Keep focused!” Throughout the Gospels he teaches us about life and how to live. He shows us how to live by the way he lived. In the Gospel for this Sunday’s Mass, he gives us one of those basic teachings that help to keep everything together, to help us “keep focused.”
Jesus says: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.” The simple statement is foundational for living a good life. The context in which the statement is delivered helps us to understand the message. Jesus is telling the disciples not to be anxious about their lives, about things the world might throw upon them or require of them (work, livelihood, material possessions, competition, etc.)
Rather he says: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” He is not saying that the concerns his disciples face in life are not real; rather he is saying that they do not have to have any power over them. Seeking “first the Kingdom of God” is the way to “keep focused.” Everything will be in its proper place when his Way is first.
He tells the disciples: “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” The birds “do nothing” yet God provides for them. Following this, he uses the beauty of wild flowers in the field. God is the one who made the flowers and he made them beautiful, even more beautiful than Solomon in all his splendor (possibly a reference to all the grand buildings he built as well).
The point is emphasized that God makes them beautiful and good of his own accord. He is the cause of the disciples’ worth. In other words, the disciples are valuable to God, on the most basic level, because “they are.”
Jesus tells the first disciples, and us, that God’s care and concern for us is even more than that which he gives for the “birds of the air” or the “grass of the field.” He asks: “Are you not more important than they?”
The first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, makes the same point regarding God’s love and concern for his people. He says: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
I recently read an article noting the high level of anxiety that Americans have been living with for some time. The author started by quoting a UCLA student study conducted several years ago demonstrating a high level of anxiety among college students. Her point in the article is that the “anxious life” is not just a description of college students but applies across our society in all levels of the socio-economic spectrum.
Seems like worry and anxiety are as present to us as for the Jews of the first century.
Jesus tells us not to worry. “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” God is here and he will take care of us. Jesus is not saying that we should be irresponsible or “care free;” rather our care should be to seek God’s way and to live his way.
In the beginning of this particular Gospel passage, Jesus teaches: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” This teaching is similar to what follows — keep God as the focus in life then everything else will find its proper place. This is the sure path to serenity and peace in our hearts. Jesus teaches us the way to “keep focused” when he says: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.