Father Andy’s homily at St. Joe’s: The Happy Jesus
February 28, 2011 Leave a comment
Has it every struck you how really very happy Jesus was? How contagious was his exuberance and delight in life? True, Isaiah the prophet did call him “a man of sorrows, familiar with grief.” And, yes, he did weep openly over stubborn, defiant Jerusalem and at his friend Lazarus’ tomb, too. And he bled agonizing tears in Gethsemane. But in reading through the Gospels, we find that those were the exceptions. The very first sign of the kingdom that Jesus performed, his first public miracle, was at a party, a wedding celebration at Cana.
He loved to tell stories about feasts and celebrations. And he also told lots of funny stories. Stories about very prim and proper pious people swallowing camels whole while taking great care at the same time to strain out tiny gnats with their teeth. And about Pharisees puffing out their chests, looking up to heaven, and thanking God that they were like no other. And now in today’s Gospel Jesus looks up at the birds flying high and free in the warm air currents of the Galilean hillside, just happy to be alive. And he also admires the flowers thriving in the rich Galilean soil carpeting the hill he’s sitting on, and he breathes deeply, and he loves it all – this good, beautiful, rich world that his heavenly Father has created. Jesus’ spirituality was opposite to those philosophers who take such a negative view of this world as a place of gloom and shadows and suffering, those who argue that the true philosophy is to escape this sad world and its suffering, to find our way out of the meaningless circles of existence into nothingness. No, Jesus delights in the beauty and the joy and the energy of this glorious world which God has created so good. And it is this world view of Jesus, this philosophy of life, his own happy experience of life that we see in his teaching this morning:
“Look,” says Jesus, “Look at the birds of the air, soaring free and without a care in the world!’ Not that they don’t work. It’s been said that no one works harder than a sparrow to make a living. And yet, says Jesus, they don’t bother sowing crops, or reap-ing, or storing away in barns – they don’t have a care in the world – because your Heavenly Father feeds them! Are you not much more valuable than they? Of course you are! And look again!” says Jesus. “See how the lilies of the field grow! Not a care in the world. Yet I tell you that not even all those Oscar nominees who will parade up and down the Red Carpet this evening in all their splendour, will be dressed like just one of these!“
So here’s my command and my invitation,” says Jesus, “Don’t let that sneaky thief called worry steal your joy. Don’t even worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Stop being so anxious and start living totally in the present, like the birds of the air, like the lilies of the field!”(Pause). And yes we can say, “Jesus, that’s not exactly practical. The lilies and the birds don’t have car payments to worry about, taxes to file, utility bills to cover, children’s university tuitions to prepare for. And once I have paid my bills, then I’ll probably also be wanting a bigger plasma TV, or a better car. “How much is enough?” someone asked John D. Rockefeller. His response? “Just a little bit more.”
And Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust eat away at that dream car of yours, and where thieves break into your home and steal your prized possessions.” Now we need to be clear what Jesus said and what he did not say. Jesus did not say, “Do not store up treasures on earth.”(Period). Some have heard Jesus saying that it is un-Christian to have a bank account, or to own a home or a car, or to put away RRSPs for retirement. But what Jesus clearly does say is, “Stop storing up treasures on earth for yourselves.” That’s why Jesus puts it so very bluntly: “No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money.” When we store up for ourselves we find ourselves enslaved to what we’re hoarding, and which one of us has not felt the need to defend our storing up treasures for ourselves on earth?
Who of us would not need to confess that we have tried to serve two masters? Who of us hasn’t tried to insure ourselves against the worries of tomorrow by storing away treasures for ourselves? (experience of Kenya mission). I wonder when we’ll finally figure it out that it really isn’t our circumstances that cause us anxiety – it is not the rise in global terrorism, not bad harvests or global warming or inflation or rising interest rates or my bank account balance.
No, what really causes me anxiety is the moth and the rust in my own heart. We live in a world addicted to worry, a world that finds its energy in anxiety. Living totally without worrying sounds to us almost as impossible as living totally without breathing. When we have so much stuff to worry about, this call to release our anxious grip falls hard on our materialistic ears. This is why the command of Jesus, “Do not worry,” is such a Good News promise of freedom and joy. Jesus does not say, “Look at the ostrich with its head buried in the sand,” but rather, “Look at the birds of the air!” Jesus is inviting us to share in his happiness, his delight in each new day. To celebrate the goodness of God, here and now.
Even in work with joy, because as human beings we have to continue to sow and to reap harvests, and even store away where appropriate, yet with joyful abandon and carefree delight, living in the moment, just as Jesus did. Yes, the bills will have to be paid, and we may still wonder if we’ll be able to balance the books to the end of the month. But know this: the God who sees each sparrow fall has promised, “I will never ever leave you nor forsake you.” Are we willing to believe that God meant what he said? Are we willing to trust God? Will we follow the example of the sparrows, of Jesus himself, and focus on the task at hand, now, in the present? Will we let all tomorrow’s worries remain in the tomorrow ? “If that isn’t a recipe for happiness, I don’t know what is!”