8th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Seek First the Kingdom

As Jesus approached the final chapter of his life on earth, the shadow of the cross hung over him. He must have found it hard to look ahead, sensing imminent failure, betrayal, suffering and death. And he certainly must have struggled fiercely to hold on his trust in the Father, and his faith in ultimate victory. This was His time of trial and testing. And yet, from the very beginning of His ministry until His final days, everything He did and said pointed towards hope, healing, reconciliation and ultimate victory.

This, too, is our testing season. In our times, hundreds of thousands are fleeing civil strife and terrorism in their homelands. Tens of thousands of refugees are being turned away from the borders of countries they hoped would offer them safety. In our own country families facing under-employment might not want to look up at “the birds in the air who do not sow or reap.” They are too busy looking down at their feet, putting one foot in front of the other. Many in our country and billions elsewhere, are just hoping to make it through to tomorrow.

There is a sense of paradox in this journey of faith. God makes us in his own image, with incredible power of intelligence and unlimited freedom of choice...but He clothes us in flesh; we are charged with very volatile emotions and passions, strong likes and dislikes, powerful instincts of love and hate; but then are challenged to be perfectly holy, so as to reflect the very holiness of God. When He saw that we were really not doing a very good job of getting it all together, He sent His own Son to share fully in our humanity so that He could show us the way to wholeness and holiness. 

But we encounter another paradox, and what seems like a twisted divine sense of humor. Jesus is a very difficult model to follow. He makes outrageous demands on our sense of the reasonable. He seems to believe that we can transcend all of the limitations of our fragile nature.   "Why do you worry? Why are you anxious?" He asks. "Look at the birds in the sky... look at the wild flowers in the fields... don't worry... have faith... have hope."

This hope is wrapped up in the ever-present mystery, at the heart of our Christianity, of dying to ourselves so that the love of God and neighbor might come to full bloom in us.

Many of us are struggling and worrying over real concerns these days.  Perhaps Jesus’ words will broaden our vision and help us focus: less on ourselves and more on those in need; less about getting and more about giving; less worrying about our own welfare and turning our attention to others - their struggles as immigrants, their lack of healthcare, their children’s need for proper nutrition and education...

The Crucified Christ teaches us how to die... and the Risen Christ teaches us how to live. The Cross conditions us to self-denial, to contradiction, to failure, to foolishness for the sake of love. The Empty Tomb assures us that the victory and the power of the Risen Lord are ours. 

We are disciples on a journey of hope.  We seek the Kingdom - and along the way, we often stumble and sometimes we wander off along the wrong paths, only to be brought back onto track by His gentle tug on our shirtsleeves... and most of the time, we're kicking and screaming and complaining that we should going in the "other direction."  It is a journey of growth, and of learning - learning that being Christian, being Catholic, is not just something we do, it's what we are; learning that the Eucharist is not just something we participate in each week, but rather that which we must always strive to become

It is - and always will be - a constant struggle.