Today, the universal Church is celebrating Year A of the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Scripture readings we heard today were last proclaimed in 2011 and, before that, 1987. For those of you who are keeping score, I was 7 years old in that year. This infrequency occurs because Lent typically begins in late February and the first half of the season of Ordinary Time ends after only a handful of weeks. Today’s Gospel passage actually occurs chronologically after the passage we will hear proclaimed in a few days at Mass on Ash Wednesday, and is an excellent lens through which to see the teachings of Jesus during Ordinary Time and to anticipate Lent.
The Gospel passages in the previous weeks were all taken from the series of teachings from Jesus that are collectively known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” This collection of discourses by Jesus is the longest in the Gospels, and includes many cornerstones of our faith, such as the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the aforementioned Lenten prescriptions of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. For this reason, it may seem odd, at first, that Jesus tells us to stop worrying about our lives. He tells us to let go of the world around us and to instead turn to the birds and wildflowers as examples of how to live. This passage ends with him telling us not to “worry about tomorrow” because “tomorrow will take care of itself.”
Now, Jesus is not trying to suggest that we can simply live without materials goods and shirk our responsibilities. But he is warning us to be careful that worldly trappings do not become just that: traps which hinder us from living our lives as God intends. His admonition to “seek first the kingdom of God” tells us that the kingdom of God and, God Himself, are the only necessary good, and is what we, who were lovingly created by God and are so much greater than worldly goods, are to find. If we seek the Gospel and the kingdom of God for the sake of worldly goods, we place those goods first, and the kingdom of God last. We then face the very real danger of finding fulfillment from worldly goods and having no need for the kingdom of God. But, when the kingdom of God is ordered as first and necessary in our lives, God provides all that we need.
As we enter into the season of Lent, let us use today’s Gospel to help frame our Lenten journey. Let us not fast for the sake of fasting but, as Jesus instructs, for the kingdom of God. Let us pray for the wisdom to understand the necessity of ordering God before worldly goods. And, let us give in such a way that our gifts are a sign of God’s love to all in this world. Let us, together, seek first the kingdom of God.