Commentary by Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will 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 of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
“Look at the birds of the air…. Consider the lilies of the field…. Do not worry about tomorrow.” There are people who would consider this New Age, if they didn’t know where it came from. For many, the name ‘New Age’ has become a term of reproach, almost an accusation of heresy – or at the least a soft version of religion: ‘Religion Lite’. People who emphasise the beauty of nature, the innate goodness of people, etc., are suspected of avoiding the reality of sin and suffering.
It is true that a spirituality that makes only slight mention or no mention at all of the Cross of Christ could hardly be called Christian. Where there is no affirmation that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” it is hard to see the shape of the Christian faith.
There are two contrasting spiritualities, then. But it would be better to think of them as two sides of the Christian faith, like the two sides of a coin. The God of creation and the God of redemption are one and the same God. It was the same Jesus who said, “Consider the lilies of the field,” and who died on the Cross.
It is important for a Christian to have a positive view of nature – nature all around us, and our own nature. The pollution of land, sea, and air in our generation is evidence that we have neglected and abused the earth. This cannot be consistent with our faith. “And God saw that it was good.” This phrase is repeated six times, like an antiphon, throughout the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. At the end of each day’s work of creation, “God saw that it was good” (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). And at the end of the entire work, “God saw that it was very good” (verse 31). This is the charter for a healthy-minded lyrical outlook on the natural world (of which we are a part). We are entitled to have an outlook on nature that is religious in its scope and intensity. God is everywhere manifest in nature, because it is his creature. “Every creature speaks God,” said Eckhart. It was commonplace in the Middle Ages to refer to Nature as “God’s first book.”
But God’s greatness and compassion are revealed even more profoundly in the work of redemption. “Jesus is the hand of God’s mercy stretched out towards us,” wrote Leo the Great. We could scarcely have imagined that God was anything like the father of the Prodigal Son, if Jesus had not us invented that parable. And we would certainly not have imagined the depths of God revealed through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Remember, again, that it was this same Jesus who said, “Look at the birds of the air…. Consider the lilies of the field…. Do not worry about tomorrow.”
We are not meant to choose between these two sides of the faith, but to hold them together in fruitful tension.