Choosing a Master
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.
Focusing Our Worry
February 26, 2017
Matthew 6: 24-34
Today’s gospel is beautiful, but is it realistic? Jesus points to the birds of the sky and the flowers of the field, and he tells us not to worry. How realistic is that? We worry about many things. We worry about our children. Will they be safe? Will they grow up to be responsible people? We worry about our job. Will it be secure? Will it provide for what we need? We worry about our retirement. Will we have enough to live? We worry about our government. Is it moving in a wise and just direction? We have many worries. And then comes Jesus who tells us not to worry, as he asks us to look at how the wild flowers grow.
I think many of us would be tempted to ignore this teaching of Jesus, to conclude that his words were charming, but naive. But before we do that I think we should look at this passage more closely. I would suggest to you that the key to understanding Jesus’s words is the last line of today’s gospel. It reads, “Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” This phrase is not as beautiful as the lilies of field, but it is much more practical. It recognizes that we are surrounded by worry—the regrets that we have about our past, the fears that we have about our future. But it reminds us that all we can deal with is worry of today. Sufficient for a day is its own evil. So these words of Jesus tell us that we should face the evil, the problems, of today and let the rest go.
Jesus is not telling us just to ignore worry, but to focus our worry in a place where it can make a difference. Today is the only time we can chose to act. The past is set. It cannot be changed. The future is uncertain. Some of the things we expect may happen and others may not. All we can do is learn from the mistakes of the past and try to anticipate what the future will bring so as to make the best decision we can today. And if we act in wisdom and energy, we should let the rest go.
It does us no good to worry about our children, the mistakes they made in the past, the things that might happen in the future. All we can do is to choose today to love them and to show them the best approach to life, and then let the rest go. It does us no good to worry about our job. All we can do is work today as best as we can and learn from our work. We can thereby become more efficient and capable people, fuller human beings. Then we should let the rest go. It does us no good to worry about our retirement or the course of our government. All we can do is decide whether today we might invest in an IRA to make our future more flexible, or choose to be politically aware so that when our government moves in a direction which we do not agree, we can make our voice heard.
When we look at the last line of the gospel, Jesus’ command does not look so naïve. It asks us to focus our worry on what we can do today, because today is the only day we can act. The past and the future are not in our control. We should let them go. Or, as Jesus would say, we should hand them over to God. God alone controls the things we cannot. So we entrust what we cannot control to into God’s hands. Here’s where the birds and the flowers come in, because if God cares for all of creation, God will certainly care for us. Let us place the past and the future into God’s hands and focus our worry on what we can do today. This is what we can control. That is why today’s trouble is sufficient for today.