3rd Sunday After Pentecost / Nativity of St John the Forerunner and Baptist
In today’s Holy Gospel we hear the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in which He exhorts us toward a complete and perfect trust in God, our loving Father. Indeed, the final words of today’s Gospel reading are a distillation and perfect summary of the spiritual life – we must ‘seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all things will be added unto us’.
Our Lord tells us that ‘no man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.’ What is this mammon? Mammon refers to worldly riches and material wealth. Along with this is understood the sense of greed and desire for control that possesses a man who is caught up in the love of mammon.
Love of and service to mammon are the source of much pain and sorrow in the world. It divides people, it pits them against each other, it motivates people to use each other for their own gain, it destroys people, families, and nations. This is because in pursuing mammon we fall prey to lust for power and we turn our back on God. We suffer the illusion that we are self-sufficient and that we possess the means to find true happiness and satisfaction.
How different is the call of the Lord when He tells us, ‘do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?’
These words can and should be a source of consolation to us. Many of us are concerned and preoccupied with worry about our lives, about how we will pay our bills and debts. Christ tells us to not waste our time and distract our spiritual energy worrying about such things. God is watching over us and God will take care of us if we seek Him first.
We, for our part, are expected to diligently and honestly give our best in whatever circumstance God has placed us: whether we are employed, or studying at school, or sacrificing ourselves as a parent at home. We must apply ourselves and work hard for our daily bread. If we meet some measure of success, we must give glory to God… and if we face the difficulties of failure, we must also give glory to God. All should be done in the context of recognizing that our first task and concern must be the kingdom of heaven.
The question is ‘where do we set our hope?’ and ‘in whom do we place our trust?’ Do we set our hope in ourselves and spend our lives worrying and preoccupied with our material wellbeing? Or do we place our hope in God and trust Him as a loving Father to watch over us – accepting then, whatever material circumstance He might send our way?
Clearly, the Gospel message is that we must place our trust and hope in God.
Happiness and contentment are not measured by or contingent upon our material success. St Innocent of Alaska writes that, ‘truly, not a single earthly pleasure can satisfy our heart. We are strangers on earth, pilgrims and travelers; our home and fatherland are there in heaven, in the heavenly kingdom; and there do not exist on earth things which could perfectly satisfy our desires. Let a man own the whole world and all that is in the world, yet all that will not interest him for more than a minute, so to speak, and it will never satisfy his heart; for the heart of man can be fully satisfied only by the love of God, and therefore God alone can fill the heart and soul of man and quench the thirst of his desires.’
We celebrate today the nativity of a man whom our Lord Jesus Christ declared the greatest of all those born of a woman. But what kind of greatness is this? For St John was a man clad in rough camel skins, living in the desert, scraping by on locusts and honey, crying out in the wilderness about the coming kingdom of heaven. While he was revered by many as a might prophet, he was considered a threat by others and his call to repentance led him to imprisonment and martyrdom.
By what standard was he great? Certainly not by the measure of the powerful of this world. St John the Forerunner was great in the eyes of God, for his heart and soul were totally dedicated to Him. And if, as we have said, the heart of man can be fully satisfied only by the love of God, then, St John was a great man indeed for he was entirely filled with zeal and the love of God.
Our Lord said, ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’. We must therefore lay up treasures for ourselves not here on this earth, but in heaven. We create these treasures by following the Gospel commandments to love one another, to sacrifice ourselves for each other, to squash the tyranny of our selfishness in service to one another, and to place our hope and our focus on God.
The Proverbs teach us: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.’ (Prov. 3:5-6)
May God grant us the courage to surrender our selfishness and to trust in Him with all our heart. If we strive first and foremost to seek that kingdom of God and His righteousness, then truly all things will be added unto us. This is not a promise of worldly success. God is interested in our eternal salvation, not in giving us what we want or what we think we need in this short life. As our Lord Jesus Christ tells us, God will provide for us and watch over us. He will bless us with what we truly need and with what is appropriate for our eternal salvation. He is our loving Father. This is the promise of our Lord and in this we can place our trust.
As we celebrate today the Nativity of St John the Baptist, let us ask for his prayers. That God would give us some small measure of his courage and resolve to seek first the kingdom of heaven and God’s righteousness.