The Monk and The Lion
In this beautiful homily for 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly looks at this week’s wonderful readings and helps us really understand them.
First Reading: Isaiah 49:14-15
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: First Corinthians 4:1-5
Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34
These are two nice readings and you won’t hear them again for three more years so you should kind of open both ears and listen carefully.
I think one of the favourite images, we have this idea, at least when I was a child we were taught, and incorrectly, that there was a God of the Old Testament and a God of the New Testament. And the God of the Old Testament was like a grandpa in a bad mood, always kind of picking and making us feel guilty about things. And then Jesus, of course, was the God of mercy.
But this is not true. The more you read the Old Testament, the more you fall in love with the God of the Israelites. He is sort of a distracted lover. He is a vulnerable person who loves His people and He can’t understand why He can’t be loved back. After all, He created the whole world and gave it to them, and here they moan and groan and all the rest of it.
And you can’t blame Him every now and then to say to Moses, “Moses, I think we should start a new people. These people don’t appreciate anything.” And Moses would say to God, “Oh no. They can change their minds, but God can’t change His mind. You promised you would be with them, come hell or high water, or whatever, you would be their God and they would be your people.”
And the loveliness of this is brought out by Isaiah the prophet in the first reading. The first reading from the book of Isaiah.
Now Zion is another word of saying the Israelites in Jerusalem. Zion is the highest part of Jerusalem and it has become like a quick way of saying the people, the people of Jerusalem, all the people of Judea and all of the Jewish people.
Anyhow the people say, “The Lord has forsaken me; my God has forgotten me.” Faith is the subject of everything that we will hear today in this gospel. Faith is the main ingredient by which we become one with God. And here they begin, the people of Zion, saying,
‘The LORD has forsaken me;
my LORD has forgotten me.’
And then you can hear a great sigh coming from heaven and God answers. And this is what He 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.
Now that’s really incredibly beautiful. And we should remember that when we approach God: we are approaching a mother who not only loves the child but dedicates her whole life to the happiness and joy of the child, and that is what He says.
Jesus, today, in the New Testament, is in another kind of situation and, basically, he is saying to his disciples that you worry too much.
My father was a great worrier. He used to worry about everything. He’d worry about whether the sun was going to come out or whether it was going to rain, or he was going to worry about whether we were going to get sick or whether we were this or whether we were that. So we used to feed him little worries so he wouldn’t let the big worries worry him too much. But he was a great worrier.
But, on the other hand, he was what I would say a very positive worrier. A positive worrier is one who worries about other people, not himself. He never worried about himself. But he worried about my mother, he worried about me, he worried about my sisters, he worried about this and he worried about that. And, in a sense, we used to kind of chuckle and smile, because, for him, worrying was a sign of caring. It was the way he showed his love for us.
But that’s not what Jesus is talking about when he says,
“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,”
And then he says,
“Oh you of little faith.”
“Oh you of little faith,” is the key to understanding. If you believe that you are of little faith then you will be able to understand the next part of the message of Jesus. To worry is, in a sense, to worry about your life and physical things, in a very real sense, is a bit of a betrayal of love.
If you really love God, why would you worry about your life, what you’re going to put on, what you’re going to eat, what’s important and what isn’t important. And Jesus knows that. He knows that the worry in our hearts very often is we worry that we will maybe be abandoned, we worry sometimes even if God exists because He doesn’t come and appear to us as we would like Him to appear to us. And so we go on in this kind of a state of worrying all the time.
He then says to them,
“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.
And then he says
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.”
When I first heard the worry speech, I thought that, well, maybe we should all relax. The idea was to sit around and relax, you see, and God would take care of it, like oranges would be found at the doorstep in the morning and everything that you wanted would be taken care of. And all you had to have was faith. If you really believed in it, if you really believed in it, then all these things would come to you, the things that are absolutely necessary for continuing your life.
And there are many people who still think that they’re not praying hard enough or that something is wrong, therefore they worry about not having enough money, not having enough of this and not having enough of that, worrying about the future, etc, etc.
I’ll tell you a story now. This is a story about a holy monk, and it’s about a holy monk and a wounded lion, a lion that’s wounded, he has a very bad foot. And the other character in this “Monk and the Lion” is the clever little fox.
Now, the monk had gotten permission, from the people who ran the monastery, to go into a secluded place, because he wanted to be a truly devout and holy man. So he found, in the middle of this forest, a place, a little house, not even a house but a hut. And he would stay in there and give his whole life to God, which was a very nice thing and his superiors allowed him to do that.
And so he began. Every morning, he got up early, prayed very hard. Every night, he went to bed and he thanked God for everything. But he began to realise that he must put his faith in God, not in anything else.
But, all of a sudden, the food started running out. You know, he’d brought his food in and it began to run out, bit by bit. And he said, “No, I must pray, because God hears the just man and, when I pray, God will provide, God will provide,” and so he said to himself.
And, finally, it got a little bit worse. Nobody was coming and he was there and he was eating up the remains of what he had. And so he said, “I must have faith. God will provide. I must have faith.”
So then a voice came and the voice said to him, “Holy monk, you’ve been praying very hard, so I will give you a sign, and from this sign you will know that your prayers are answered.” Oh well, that cheered up the monk.
In the morning, he went outside the door and under a tree in the backyard there was a lion and the lion was laying there. And the lion was very unhappy because he couldn’t move because he had a thorn and trouble with one of his paws, and so he sat there.
And, while the monk was watching this, he saw the little fox come. The little fox had in his mouth a beautiful piece of steak and he ran over to the lion and he dropped it in front of him and he sat there and the lion had his breakfast.
Well, at noontime, the monk came out again and then he saw the same thing. This little fox came out and he was feeding the lion. And he said, “Yes, God is telling me something. I must have faith like this lion, you see. He has faith and the little fox comes every day and he feeds him and he’s doing okay.”
He runs out of food. Now he has no food at all. And by this time he goes outside and there’s no more lion and there’s no more fox. And he goes back in and he gets angry at God and he’s yelling up at heaven, “How come you don’t take care of me? I’ve been so faithful and true and your best friend, and here you are this is the way you treat me,” etc etc.
And, of course, you think that, wow, God’s going to listen. But what happens is that he dies. He starves to death.
And then, all of a sudden, he goes up to heaven. And he’s got a lot on his mind. And he breezes by St Peter and he says, “I belong here. I’ve given my whole life to God and I deserve to be here and I had nothing but faith. I put my faith in waiting for that fox to come and take care of me.”
So God says to him, “Now, little monk,” He said, “You’ve been very good and very true and all of that, but,” He said, “you made one mistake. I gave you this sign. I gave you this sign so that you would learn from this sign, but you didn’t learn from it.”
And the monk said, “Well, why? I figured you were going to feed me like the fox fed the lion.”
And then God says to him, “No, you were supposed to imitate the fox. If you’d imitated the fox and searched for food for the fox and you’d spent your whole life serving this little fox, all the other foxes would come and take care of you.”
Now this is the way it seems to me we are. We’re always asking God and asking God.
When he says, “Seek first the kingdom of God” what does he mean? Seek first the presence of God, seek first the love of God, seek first Jesus and follow Him.
And what does Jesus do? He doesn’t sit around all day moaning and groaning and asking God to give him food. What he does is he heals the sick, he takes care of the lonely, he gives himself freely and easily and with joy and laughter. That man will never starve.
Now this is what Jesus is trying to say to us. The presence of God is here among us. We don’t pray to Him for things that we need. We ask Him, “Can we bring the kingdom of God, the kingdom of joy and peace and self-sacrifice and caring and reaching out?”
And if we do that, the whole world will be filled, filled with more food than we need, because we will have finally learned that Jesus came, not to give us things, but to give us love.
And the only thing you can do with love given, is to pass it around to everyone else.
And so that’s the parable and that’s why Jesus says, “Do not worry.” You’ll find your heart is light when you reach out in love. You’ll find that God is always with you. No matter how dark it seems, there will be a bright shining light in your own heart.
And it’s because God’s love is everlasting and will always be there for you.
And all you have to do is take God’s love and share it with all the people around you and you will have more than enough.