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The Gospel today is part of the much longer discourse of our Lord that is often called the “Sermon on the Mount,” which can be found in its entirety in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, chapters five, six, and seven; and in the sixth chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel. The sermon is an exhortation to make a choice between the following of Christ and the following of worldly passions.
Sometimes people are misled by not realizing that this parable of “the lilies of the field” is precisely that, a parable—a short story intended to convey a meaning which may not be exactly expressed in the story. Our Lord is not telling his listeners to be useless and unproductive like the “hippies” of the 1960s and 70s—He is not telling us to run around wearing no more than the lilies of the field; He is not telling us that we should eat no more than the berries and the fruit growing on the bushes and the trees!
We know this though His own example. Before His public life Jesus worked as a carpenter—hard work in an era before power tools, milled lumber and factory made bolts and nails. His friends were fishermen, and the Scriptures describe Him helping them fish. His parables speak with tacit approval of human industry: of shepherds, and sowers of seeds, of vintners, and bakers and harvesters, and fishermen, and makers of skin vessels to hold wine. He even has good things to say about a certain Roman centurion.
Jesus’ exhortations to charity point to His approval of human industry. In spite of what some in government would have us believe: one cannot feed the hungry with food that has not been grown and prepared through human effort; one cannot clothe the naked unless cloth has been made, or skins prepared, and made into garments by human hands; one cannot shelter the homeless if no shelters have been built; one cannot “redistribute” what doesn’t exist, what hasn’t been made or gathered through the initiative of men and women.
Rather than as an indictment of human industry, the parable must be seen in the light of the entire sermon on the mount. Nowhere in that sermon did our Lord suggest that one could escape from life in the world. The Psalmist tells us that “Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty if we are strong. And most of them are spent in fruitless toil.” But from the perspective of eternity we can put those years to good use: “Blessed are the humble ... the meek ... the merciful ... the seekers after justice ... the clean of heart ... the peacemakers ... those who endure persecution with patience.” Blessed are those at peace with their brethren ... the chaste of mind and body ... the faithful and the truthful ... those who seek no revenge ... who fast and pray and give alms in secret, and not for the glory of praise ... those who do not judge ... who observe the “Golden Rule” ... who give no heed to the false prophets of the world, even though they may appear to cast out devils and work miracles.
Our Lord spoke—just before this morning’s parable—of “laying up treasures in heaven, where neither rust nor moth consumes, nor thieves break in and steal.”
What is this “treasure in heaven,” and how do we obtain it? From our Lord’s sermon, it is quite clear that the treasure is grace, and that we obtain it by being sons and daughters of God. It means moderation in the use of our physical resources—it doesn’t exactly restrict our industry, but tells us to make good and holy use of the things we have and the talents we possess. It means that our time must be properly divided: our concern for “what we shall eat, and what we shall put on” must not distract us from spending time with God in prayer and meditation; must not keep us from attending Mass, receiving the Sacraments, reading the Scriptures and other spiritual books.
This same moderation in physical things must also be exercised with our families, or neighbors, and all those around us. Saint Paul is perhaps a little more blunt about this than our Lord was on the Mount. This morning’s epistle is a grocery list of things we must avoid on the one hand, and which we must do on the other hand, vis à vis our neighbor.
Saint Paul’s list may sound a bit strong—it maybe that we never do some of the things he forbids—I presume that there are no murderers here; no one that commits idolatry or practices witchcraft—although each one of us can probably identify with a few of the vices he lists. What he is saying, though, is that the Christian must strive to purify himself of all of these vices which result from the misuse of the good things of the world—and that we must strive to perfect in ourselves the virtues which come from the proper use of the gifts of the Holy Ghost.
Our passions and desires must be crucified with Christ, so that the love of the Holy Ghost may abound within us. We must “walk in the Spirit,” so as not to fall into the snares and misuses of the flesh. We “cannot serve two masters.” Everything that we do should be done for the love of God—either directly, as in prayer and the Sacraments—or indirectly, as our virtues make us peaceful and productive for ourselves, our families, and those neighbors who are unable to do for themselves.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all things necessary shall be given you besides.”
 Gospel: Matthew vi: 24-33.
 http://www.witsendbb.com/flowers/lilies.jpg at Wit's End B&B Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada, http://www.witsendbb.com/flowers.html.
 Psalm lxxxix:10.
 Matthew v: 1-17.
 Cf. Matthew v: 21-48; vi: 1-18; vii: 1-23.
 Matthew vi: 19-21.
 Epistle: Galatians v: 16-24.