On the Road to Lent

Prophetstown State Park, Indiana. By Anne Hornyak.
Prophetstown State Park, Indiana. By Anne Hornyak.
Prophetstown State Park, Indiana. By Anne Hornyak.

I woke up to birds outside my bedroom window every morning this week; for the past week, the long grey days of an Indiana winter gave way to at least a temporary taste of spring. The small joys of a change in weather made an appearance: sunshine, students in flip flops, driving in your car with the windows down.

The early shift in seasons felt dissonant with the change in liturgical seasons coming upon us. This weekend marks the last Sunday of Ordinary time before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. The particular Sunday that this transition lands on tends to vary from year to year, depending on when Lent and Easter fall, and we’ve had a longer period of Ordinary time this year than we might typically get. Still, it must be said that the time over the past eight Sundays has felt anything but ordinary for many. So I was struck by the Gospel reading for this Sunday:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“No one can serve two masters.

He will either hate one and love the other,

or be devoted to one and despise the other.

You cannot serve God and mammon.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,

what you will eat or 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 in the sky;

they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,

yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Are not you more important than they?

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?

Why are you anxious about clothes?

Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.

They do not work or spin.

But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor

was clothed like one of them.

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?

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’

or ‘What are we to drink?’or ‘What are we to wear?’

All these things the pagans seek.

Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,

and all these things will be given you besides.

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.

Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” (Matthew 6:24-34)

The passage is embedded in a chapter where Jesus tells the disciples how to pray (including the words of the “Our Father”). It serves as the culmination of that instruction, first offering a stringent warning against the idolatry of mammon (money), moving to reassurances that God will provide, and then ending the chapter on that final, unsettling note: “Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” It’s a bit of a rollercoaster, but it speaks to us in precarious times. Yes, we may trust in God’s promise — as the first reading, from Isaiah, says:  “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” But we are always trying to come to that trust in the midst of fear and uncertainty. It is in times of fear that the act of trust becomes all the more radical.

It’s possible to read this passage and forget the warnings that bookmark it. Doing so cheapens the message. It rings hollow to ask “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” when someone does not know when their next meal will be, or how to buy clothes for growing children who no longer fit in their old ones. God’s providence is not a magician’s trick, that produces our material needs from thin air.

But, taken with that final line, perhaps this week’s Gospel offers a needed challenge — each day has its own evil, we do not need to imagine more. This is not a call to ignore the struggles that surround us, to ignore those who need the food and clothes that have not appeared. Rather, it asks us to look away from the future and into the present. To acknowledge the ups and downs of days marked by fear without compounding that fear with weeks, months of interest. To reject fear of our future in favor of being the hands that offer the food and clothing God promises.

We know not what tomorrow will bring. Do what you can for today. Spring in Indiana is a fickle thing, after all, and today I woke up to snow. Lent is on its way.