Sunday 12 February 2023

Anxiety and hope

 Matthew 6.25-34

Isaiah 49:8-16a

1 Corinthians 4:1-5




We live in an age of anxiety.


Anxiety manifests itself on many levels: personal, national, global, existential, ecclesiastical.


You might look at your life and be anxious about your personal circumstances or your meaning and destiny.


You might look at our country and be anxious about the NHS, the economy, industrial action, the future of our children.


You might look at the world and be anxious about the threat of escalating war, the challenges of global migration, injustice, poverty and humanitarian crises.


You might look at the threat of climate catastrophe and be anxious about the possibility of the end of human existence.


You might look at the Church and be anxious about her life and future as winds and storms buffet her teaching.


On all levels anxiety can be debilitating, tiring and ultimately lacking in hope and grace.


So it is very refreshing to have a gospel reading today that addresses the question of anxiety head on.


Jesus’ remedy to anxiety is not to diminish the things we naturally worry about, but to challenge the source of our anxiety.


‘Can any of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your span of life?’


No. In fact quite the opposite. We can worry ourselves to death; but what God wills for us is life.


So Jesus says, contemplate the way in which our heavenly Father gives life to, and sustains, the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, whose beauty is unsurpassed.


That’s the first step to transform our anxiety into hope: contemplate beauty; contemplate wonder.


The second, perhaps harder, step is to consider how transitory life is.


It’s about being realistic about our mortality: one day I will die.


Facing the fact of our mortality is an antidote to underlying human anxiety.


It is to say ‘I will take hold of my anxieties and not let them take hold of me’.


This is the grace of the resurrection of Christ: life lived in all its abundance - non-anxious life - savours what is beautiful and is realistic about the reality of death.


Ultimately, to the Christian, natural death is not the end, is not annihilation, as the secular narrative, devoid of hope, has it; for to God’s faithful people ‘life is changed not taken away’, as the Funeral Mass says.


Anxiety feeds on lack of faith, lack of hope and lack of love, and remember the first letter of John tells us that ‘perfect love casts out fear’ (1 John 4.18).


Anxiety, fear, worry are features of our human nature; so, Jesus tells us, contemplate and savour what is good and beautiful and true.


So in this life, Jesus tells us, what we should strive after is not false security to soothe our anxiety but is to strive first for the kingdom of God.


It is in that context we hear ‘Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?”’ (Matthew 6.31)


As he says, ‘Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?’ In other words, non-anxious life does not resort to so-called ‘comfort eating’ or ‘retail therapy’.


When we worry about our bodies and what we are to eat let us hear Jesus say, ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6.35). Let us live by the words of scripture, ‘we shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4.4),


When we worry about our bodies and what we are to wear let us hear St Paul say ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 13.14), as if he were a garment, and recall that before his crucifixion when he was stripped naked Christ’s own clothing was divided, yet, as we sing in the hymn, he is ‘robed in flesh, our great High Priest’.


In our age of anxiety the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the source of faith and hope and love that casts out fear, that frees us to live life in all its abundance, feeding on Christ and hearing, with Mary, ‘do not be afraid’ and answering with Mary, ‘let it be unto me according to thy word’.


Be clothed in Christ; come and feast at his banquet.




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