8th Sunday Ordinary time, year A, 2-16-17, Isaiah 49:14-15, Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-93, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, Matthew 6:24-34, 2-16-17
Most people recognize this gospel passage about the “flowers of the field.” We can connect to it. We still treasure flowers, so many years later. We give them to people to speak of our love, when we beg forgiveness, when we try to console people for their losses. We wear flowers when we dance, and when we marry. We print flowers on our clothing, on our wall paper, on our stationery, and on gift wrap. We grow flowers in our home gardens, in public parks, and as part of the landscaping around shopping malls. Our lasting fondness for flowers is not just the result of a well-planned media effort by the Florists Association. Even the harder hearts among us, deep down, recognize flowers as one of those gifts of the earth, a fragile miracle of creation.
Jesus, as always, got the message exactly right, when he used flowers as the memory token of God’s love. I can imagine Jesus as a toddler, running to Mary in that funny little way toddlers run, with a dandelion or some weedy-flower clutched in his little cubby fist, gurgling with joy as he presented it to his mother. Jesus, of all people, knew intimately what it takes to make a beautiful field of “wild” flowers. I suspect he spend long hot hours in the family garden as a child, hoeing with a stick, hauling water from a stream or well, making sure every precious plant in that garden grew to feed his family.
We so glibly repeat the doctrine of Jesus as “fully God and fully human.” Do we remember that for many years, we have no records of Jesus living anything other than the ordinary life of a young Jewish boy? Yet the story of Jesus in the temple with the teachers brings us to believe that his understanding was deeper than even his parents expected. He must have considered the perfect timing of our world. The breeze, blowing the fragile seeds of the flowers, needed divine help in finding the perfect meadow, the spot of rich soil, the moisture so precious in the dry Middle East, and the clouds parting for the sun – all coming together to bring about a brief and fleeting beauty of the flowers in the fields.
Many of Jesus’ stories and parables use homely, earthy images that everyone listening to him could relate to. But anyone who has tried to craft a few paragraphs that possibly might hold the attention of an audience knows, that to write reasonable well, much less create a lasting image that could withstand thousands of years, that would be copied and translated and minutely studied by scholars ready and able to dissect them, is another matter.
How do you tell children that an invisible God loves them intimately? Why not tell them about the flowers. Even the youngest child knew what a treasure those flowers were – to bring to Mother, to weave necklaces out of, to run and roll in their sweet scent. All the children listening to Jesus had gathered the dead flowers along with the cut grass, to be thrown into the fire. They understood such beauty had value, and the idea that God would lavish such joy on a weed that would last a few days, was proof enough that God would lavish love on them too.
How do you convince poor, needy, over-burdened adults that they are valuable to God? Why not point to the birds. Many birds have a very short life span, and yet are seen soaring in the sky in joy, lazily drifting on the wind currents. They get their sustenance free, found as seeds in the flowers or on the ground, or as leftovers in the food trough of other animals. Their homes are made of the leaves and sticks and mud that wait for them. Everything seems to be provided by God, lavishly given at no cost. Their life seems so simple. Then why do we worry, why are we anxious, why do we search out the Coach purse at $500, the newest styles, the hot labels? Science has proven that constant stress and worry shortens life. Why do we whine to God that we can’t take the stress- the stress we have brought upon ourselves by valueing what is not valuable? The birds and the flowers are the model God provides for us to learn to enjoy what is simple and free, like the love which rains down on us.
How do you persuade the sick and forgotten, those who have made a mess of their lives and have been shamed again and again, that God finds them beautiful? Jesus offers them new direction, a new path. Seek God. Watch how God loves – with the goodness of creation and the abundance provided for us by the earth. Yes, when life has not gone well for a while, don’t allow the past to pile up on you and smother you. The rain will fall on you, good or bad. Spring always comes back to the world, regardless of the hard winter the warmth of the sun always returns. Each morning is a new day. When Isaiah spoke with the people of Israel who had disobeyed God, who had broken their relationship with God and been held in captivity for years, Isaiah spoke of the certainty of a mother’s love. Even should the unthinkable happen and the mother should forget her child, God will never forget. God will never abandon. God will never be without tenderness.
This is the image we need as we face the beginning of Lent, a time to consider our response to God’s love, the tenderness and forgiveness offered to each and every one of the entire family of humanity. It is a message which does not scold and upbraid us for our faults, our turning from God, our refusal to love each other, much less God. It is more like the doorbell ringing, and the people who have offended us and abused us coming to us, repentant, offering remorse and apologies and, yes, a bouquet of beautiful flowers, hoping to repair our relationship. Or perhaps we are on the other side of the door, ready to say that we were wrong and intolerant, greedy or thoughtless. It is a time to sow seeds of peace, of love, of compassion, or of forgiveness, that we may truly be ready for the blossoming of the flowers of hope and joy.