Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Today's Mass offers some of our favorite, most lyrical and least observed scripture passages, beginning with "...do not worry."
An advice columnist recently ran a reader's paean in praise of her dog. The animal had demonstrated an admirable ability to relax in hard times, to play with nothing to play with, to trust and forgive those who had only recently disappointed. Jesus pointed to the birds in the sky and made a similar pronouncement.
Humans don't easily forget the past, and we remember the future very well. We may not know what will happen but we're often sure we won't like it. These advantages over our animal kin give us enormous responsibility for the earth and its denizens but when we fail to trust in our God as they trust in us, these assets become enormous liabilities. Perhaps that is why some animal rights advocates insist that human beings should have no privilege over inferior forms of life. We don't deserve them, they say, and our being here on the Animal Planet only makes matters worse.
Knowledge of the future and its possibilities for weal or woe is integral to our freedom. We must make choices and they always have consequences. In that respect we are, unlike the animals, co-creators of the earth. They, no doubt, shape their environment; many seem quite intentional as they store away food and build nests and bowers. But they do these things instinctively.
The human being has no instincts; only habits which must be chosen, practiced, maintained, adapted, taught to children, and sometimes forgotten. We're as responsible for our habits as the birds are not responsible for their nests.
We're especially dumbstruck with the burden of our freedom when we realize our habits, customs and traditions -- practices which work very well for some of us -- are making matters worse for others. In fact, they may be creating a future which will be palpably worse than the present. Who could imagine, in 1885, that Karl Benz's invention might poison the Earth's abundant atmosphere? What consumer, discarding a shopping bag on a sidewalk in Louisville, might suppose it will join the eight million metric tons of plastic garbage entering the oceans every year, or that it might kill a pilot whale off the coast of Thailand?
When Jesus encouraged his disciples not to worry overmuch was he suggesting that we give no thought to the consequences of our waste, indolence or greed?
Today's gospel teaches us more than not to worry; we should also "seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness...."
Few us can consider every decision that we make in the light of God's kingdom. We are, after all, making tens of thousands of decisions every day; if we count the things we decide to do and those we decide not to do. At any moment there may be ten choices before me; choosing only one I leave the rest to float off into that "alternate universe" that some fantasists imagine.
But if we cannot ask Jesus at every moment, "What would you do?" and wait for the answer, we can begin each day in prayer, asking for God's guidance. The Lord who sees the endless consequences of every decision can guide our thoughts, desires, intentions and decisions with infinitely more assurance than we can muster. With that assurance we can look at the birds in the sky and learn from the way the wild flowers grow.