March 2, 2014
A seventy-year-old man began to complain to his wife. “I’m so frustrated,” he said. “Everything is so much farther away than it used to be. The distance from our house to the corner is two times longer than it once was, and I just noticed that they have added a hill. I don’t even run for the bus anymore, because it leaves earlier than it ever did before. And this morning as I was combing my hair at the sink I caught my reflection. How frustrating. They do not even make good mirrors anymore.”
Whether this man realizes it or not, he is coping with a significant amount of anxiety over growing old. And if he is not careful, that anxiety can become his master. Unless he takes steps to prevent it, more and more of his life will be spoiled by the thought of the way things used to be. More and more of his energy will be wasted in sadness and regret. His life could begin a downward spiral of unrealistic expectations and frustrating alternatives. When anxiety and worry become your master, you are robbed of joy and meaning. Of course, worry does not simply come from growing old. There are many things we can worry about. Being accepted and liked is one, and one to which young people are particularly vulnerable. Who will be my friends? Who will sit with me at lunch? What will people say behind my back? This worry about being liked and accepted can become our master. It can control us. And of course, there is the example that Jesus uses in today’s gospel, the example of money. Will we have enough: enough money to retire, enough money for vacation, enough money to leave our children. Money can become our master—so can worry about whether our children will become addicted to drugs, whether our sister will find a husband, or whether we will develop cancer.
Now worrying about these things is not bad in itself. After all, these are areas of concern. We need money to retire. We want to be liked. We need to cope with growing old. Especially if there is a history of it in our family, we should be concerned about cancer. But what today’s gospel tells us is not that we should avoid worrying, but that we should avoid making worry our master. This is why Jesus says we must choose. Using the example of money he says: “You cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and mammon.” Jesus wants us to choose what will rule our lives. And it is important to realize in that the options are not equal. To make the anxiety over money, or popularity, or health our master will never bring us happiness. There is really only one choice that we can make, and that is to choose God’s lordship over us. This is the way to life. It is also a way to diffuse worry and anxiety.
You see the strategy of Jesus in today’s gospel is both clever and effective. When anxiety becomes our master, it does us little good to say, “Oh don’t worry about that. You can’t do anything about it anyway, so put it out of your mind.” Saying not to worry actually makes us worry more. It makes us reflect, I might not have enough money or friends. I might get cancer. Jesus tells us that the way forward is not to dismiss worry, but to replace it with another power. We need to replace worry as our master by making God our master. God knows the future. God has the power to get us through whatever worries we may have. Making God our master orientates our lives toward confidence and hope.
We cannot serve two masters, and it would be foolish to try. So choose God as your master, because in making that choice there will be no room left for anxiety or worry to have power over you.