Mar. 29, 2017

EIGHTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, A

"I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU" 

A few days ago, we were having this conversation about mothers and their children at the religious education for sixth to eighth grade kids. A woman told us how worried she was about her little boy of about seven years. The child was sick with fever and restless. He would lay on the mom’s lap and wouldn't be alone nor let the mom be. Mom said her little son wanted to sleep. Instead of sleeping on the couch, he pulled her along to his tiny bed, lay on this bed and created some space for her to lie beside him. But the bed was too small to contain both of them, so the mom didn't know what else to do. She just sat at the edge with her arm uncomfortably thrown around her boy. The son threw his arms around her too, and kept grinning. It was for her quite an uncomfortable posture but she had to remain there for as long as her child wanted to make him feel good. That's the mother's love, how tough it could be.  The prophet Isaiah reminded the Israelites, "Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child in her womb? Even if she forgets, I will never forget you" (Is.49:14-15). 

This reading is addressed to the exiles of Judah who endured about half a century of captivity in Babylon. The Israelites felt abandoned and dejected. They were asking questions about the possibility of returning to their Promised Land; "Will God ever restore us as the elect, the covenant people?". The portion of the scriptures we're reading today is taken from the prophet Isaiah's "Book of Consolation" (Chapter 40-55) where God offers to comfort his people and to return them to their homeland. The comparison here is a very strong one. The mother's love for the child is very tender, and the Psalmist says of God, "The Lord is tenderness and compassion, slow to anger and rich in faithful love" (Ps.103:8). The mother as we can see, sacrifices for the child. The mother is ready to go hungry for the baby. She can hurt to make the baby feel comfortable. It is a love that involves giving, giving and giving. The mother doesn't count gains or losses in tending to her child, it's all about the best care to keep the baby alive. The prophet Isaiah assures us that God's love is stronger. A mother could be crazy sometimes and forget the child. A mother could be weighed down by the child's behavior. A mom could feel discouraged. The prophet says, it is not so with God; "Even if she (the mother) forget, I will never forget you". 

The gospel tells us that worrying about life can make us feel that God has forgotten us in our daily experiences. It contrasts the human being with all other creatures to let us know how valued and important we are before God. The birds of the air, the flowers, grasses in the field, etc., all receive God's care; they abandon themselves to God's support. How much more, the human person created in God's image and likeness? The gospel poses some interesting questions to us: "Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Are not you more important than the birds? Can you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?" O my God! I wish we will understand such compelling love and let God take over our lives always. 

I was watching a short video clip the other day titled "Why worry?" The presenter posited similar question with three different answers, but all the answers pointed to the same thing. The question was, "Do you have a problem in life?" He answers 'no'. Then he asks, "Then why worry?" He asks again, "Do you have a problem in life? Can you do something about it?" And he answers, "yes". He says again, "Then why worry?". Finally, he asks, "Do you have a problem in life? Can you do something about it?" Again, he answers, "no". "Then why worry? " The summary therefore, is that no matter how you worry, you can never solve all your problems. 

An interesting component is introduced in this gospel passage. Trusting in God is the advantage the believer has. For a faithful Christian, whatever be the concern, God has the capability of solving the problem. It says that pagans ask the same question, "What are we to eat? What are we to drink? So it doesn't really make any difference. The difference lies in seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, then recognizing that God can provide every other thing. I still think about Abraham's experience with the demand made by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac on Mount Moriah. One salient point in that encounter was Abraham's faith and absolute reliance in God. It looked like he didn't know exactly what was to be the outcome of the journey, but he was confident that God was in control. And when the son asked him the question, "Father, where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham's response was theologically outstanding, "My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering" (Gen.22:7-8). And that's exactly what happened. God handled Abraham's concerns in the end. 

In practical human terms, it is difficult to comprehend the presence of God in the midst of very tough moments that come our ways. How can you tell someone who is feeling the excruciating pains of cancer in her body not to worry? How can you tell the mother of an addicted boy, a kid totally taken over by drugs and alcohol not to worry? How can you tell a woman/man completely frustrated by her spouse's infidelity not to worry? How can you explain to the jobless lady who is about to be ejected from her house for lack of money to pay mortgage not to worry? How can you let the woman pacing about in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital with husband completely intubated not to worry? How dare you tell the woman struggling to save her child who was knocked down by the reckless driver not to worry? How can you tell the young lady who lost her husband barely a year after marriage, and immediately, her mom, not to worry? These are realities that stare us in the face. One thing I tell those who come to me for spiritual direction is that we must understand the limits of human solutions. We must recognize where faith takes over in our lives. If you have no faith, you hang in the balance. If you have no faith, you are like a ticking time bomb. Every other thing in life expires. Social activities, pills? Is it watching television? Is it games? Is it psychological counseling, therapy, etc? They all expire, and sometimes begin to produce repeated, boring results. Only God does not expire. 

What is the challenge from the readings of today? Realize the love of God in your life even in the midst of your worries. Christ says, "Come to me all you who labor and are over-burdened. And I will give you rest" (Matt.11:28). Just know that each day will come and go, but God doesn't go. His words to you today amidst crises is, "I will never forget you". His love for you is stronger than you imagine. Do not lose hope. Do not give up. Do not despair, it is not over. Tell your neighbor, friend, husband, sister, brother, colleague at work, that it is not over. Seek you first his goodness, love and mercy. Seek you his compassion always. He knows what you want even before you ask him. He is not done with you. This song keeps coming to my head as reminder for those who feel anxious about life; The faithfulness of the Lord never seizes. His mercy never comes to an end. They are new every moment, new every moment; great is your faithfulness, O Lord. Great is your faithfulness". Great is God's faithfulness to you.