He Saw That It Was Good

He Saw That It Was Good

Eighth Sunday of the Year. Fr Richard Ounsworth helps us to see how we combine a proper concern for our own welfare with the detachment from material things Jesus preaches in today’s Gospel. 

‘You cannot be a slave to God and to Mammon.’ In today’s Gospel Jesus shows us what slavery to Mammon means: constant fretting over the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the other everyday cares of this life. ‘But I have to worry about those things – I have a family to look after, I have responsibilities.’ Even those of us who don’t have families whose everyday needs are our responsibility have a duty of care to ourselves. There is nothing intrinsically virtuous about neglecting our health or turning up to work, say, in completely inappropriate clothes – or no clothes at all. This cannot be what Jesus is asking of us.

The good news of the Christian Gospel is that God saw all that He made, and that it was good; God so loved the world of flesh and blood and food and clothing and everything else that is material that he entered into that world; that God invites us to participate in the stewardship of this good creation. As sons and daughters of Adam, we receive from God the responsibility of care for ourselves and our loved one and for the whole created world, including the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

However, Adam’s sin meant that he turned away from the easy, natural, harmonious relationship with God into which he was created, and the loss of this friendship with God meant that his relationship with creation also became fraught, marked by toil and sweat and anguish and pain. Matters that should have been sources of pure delight became instead troubles and anxieties.

We, however, have been reborn in Jesus Christ, the second Adam. The one whom Mary mistook for the gardener after his resurrection is the True Gardener indeed, because as he reconciles humanity to God he also reconciles us to creation, re-ordering our relationship with the material world so that we can work in harmony with it rather than struggle with it in a battle of wills.

Because, ironically, the slavery to Mammon of which the Lord speaks in today’s Gospel is the result of our attempt to enslave the created world to ourselves, to subdue it, to trample upon nature in a desire to be Lords of Creation. This human arrogance in trying to enslave our world to the will of man has had results that are all too plain to see, and it’s plain that more than anything it is greed – greed for money, power, status – that is at the root of all this. And the harder we try to enslave creation to ourselves, the more we make ourselves the slaves of Mammon.

Little wonder, then, that when people recognise the terrible consequences of this arrogance, many conclude that man is a blot on the landscape, an environmental catastrophe, a cancer on the face of the earth; only if we leave nature alone can the world be set right: man is the enemy of nature.

But this cannot be the Christian position. Adam and Eve were not placed in an unspoilt wilderness but in a garden. A garden is a place where man and nature co-operate, working together in harmony to bring beauty and order. In a garden, there is no subjugation, no arrogance, and the garden is not a place for fretting and anxiety but for ease and delight.

Now, what Christianity offers is not a return to Eden – the fruit once tasted cannot be untasted, and the naïve simplicity of Adam and Eve before the fall can never be ours. What we are offered in Christ is a calling so much greater: as our second reading today says, we have been made ‘stewards of the mysteries of God’. The stewardship of creation offered to Adam and Eve has become part of a greater calling, for we are stewards not only of nature but of supernature – the very life of God which is shared with us in Christ Jesus.

And this stewardship is indeed a slavery to God – the only slavery that brings not bondage but liberation, not hardship but joy, because to be a slave of the one whose love calls us into existence and sustains us every moment is freedom indeed. If we embrace this slavery which is the freedom of the children of God, giving ourselves over to perfect charity, then we will find that our daily concerns for the mundane things of this present life will not be a source of enslavement but free acts of love.

Readings: Isaiah 49:14-15|1 Corinthians 4:1-5|Matthew 6:24-34

fr Richard Joseph Ounsworth is Prior and Parish Priest at Holy Cross Priory, Leicester, teaches scripture for Blackfriars, Oxford, and is the Editor of Torch.