Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) | Fr David Goodill urges us to place our hope in Jesus Christ who is the solid rock upon which we must build our lives.
It’s not easy to keep things in perspective. Life can hit you from every side, and no matter how hard you try to keep your balance the ground gives way from under your feet. So what are we to do? Jesus tells us not to be anxious about life, for our heavenly Father will always take care of us. Words can be easily spoken, but these words of Jesus are not uttered as a mere platitude. In order to understand these words we need to look at the context within which Jesus utters them: The Sermon on the Mount.
The Sermon on the Mount is found in Chapters 5-7 of St Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew has drawn deliberate parallels between Jesus and Moses, and when Jesus goes up the mountain in order to teach we are to understand that He will proclaim a new teaching which will complete and bring to perfection the Law of Moses. He begins by proclaiming the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,” and finishes by telling the crowd that those who listen to His words build upon solid rock, whereas those who reject them build upon shifting sand. Christian theologians from the earliest times have seen the Sermon on the Mount as summing up the whole of the Christian life, providing the perfect teaching for God’s Children.
When Jesus tells us not to be anxious about life His words should be seen in the context of the whole of the Sermon on the Mount. For those who live the Beatitudes, those who build their lives on the solid rock of Jesus’ teaching, there is no need to be anxious about life. This is because the Sermon on the Mount is more than just a list of rules. To understand this it is important to see how any instruction we accept for our lives depends upon the authority of the one who gives it. This is true for technical instruction, such as how to drive a car. We listen to those who are competent to teach us how to drive. A driver with thirty years of safe driving experience has more authority to teach us than someone who has never driven. If this is true for limited parts of our life, how much more important is it to trust in a competent authority when it is a question of how to live our life as a whole.
When Jesus proclaims the Beatitudes, and gives us the Sermon on the Mount as the perfect teaching for living the Christian life, He does so with authority. This is an authority given to Him from eternity by his heavenly Father and is therefore greater than any human authority. It is the authority of the one who lived the Beatitudes in each moment of His life; a pouring out of His life in love for His Father and in service for each one of us. A service which will lead Him to the cross where His authority over all things in heaven and earth is most powerfully revealed. It is on the cross that Jesus Christ opens His arms in love and mercy towards every person, showing that His teaching is not just a set of sayings to help us through difficult times, but is fulfilled as He takes upon Himself all our anxiety and fear.
He is the solid rock upon which we must build our lives, without Him there is no foundation only shifting sands. Each day brings its own trials, and to be a Christian is not to live in a state of detachment from reality. Anxiety and fear are natural human reactions to the uncertainties and trials of life, and later in St Matthew’s Gospel we learn of Jesus’ own sorrow and struggle at Gethsemane. But through his cross and resurrection Jesus Christ overcomes death and fear, so that we are no longer imprisoned by anxiety for the future. This is our Christian hope, given birth in our hearts by His Holy Spirit. We should not be anxious about our lives, because He is with us, and sends us His help in our weakness.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew of the Cross at Mount Claret Retreat Centre in front of Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona