03 March 2014

A Master better than Lord & Lady Grantham

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
This past Monday was a sad day for me.  I was watching on DVR the latest episode of one of my favorite shows, “Downton Abbey.”  As I was watching it I was engrossed in the story.  But eventually I thought, ‘This episode seems longer.’  And as I looked at my watch, I noticed that the episode was already past its usual 57-minute airtime.  But then I found out why it was a longer episode: it was the season finale!  My joy quickly turned to sorrow as I realized I wouldn’t be able to watch new episodes for many months.
            I don’t know why I like Downton.  Maybe it’s the general American fascination with British royalty and nobility.  Maybe it’s just the charm of a British accent.  But I do enjoy it!  And while Downton surely paints a rather rosy picture of life in the early twentieth century, I can’t help but think that I would have been happy even just being a footman in a noble’s house, with all the order, the discipline, and the pomp and circumstance (probably not a surprise to anyone here).
            St. Paul says in our second reading that, “one should regard us…as servants of Christ.”  Now, St. Paul is not saying that we have to set out the silverware just right, or wear the right livery for a British noble family.  But he uses this term servant because, whether in first century Palestine or in the twentieth century England, the servant was always intent on fulfilling the master’s will and being about the master’s business.  Psalm 123 reveals what our approach is to be with Jesus: “Yes, like the eyes of servants/ on the hand of their masters, / Like the eyes of a maid/ on the hand of her mistress, / So our eyes are on the Lord our God, / till we are shown favor.” 
            That is the admonition that Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel: “‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothing] will be given you beside.’”  Christ tells us to work intently on finding the Kingdom of God and then living out the life of the Kingdom, which he had just outlined in chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel through the Sermon on the Mount.  Seeking the Kingdom of God means living the beatitudes, and living according to the new law of grace.  The new law of grace is to be salt and light, not to be angry, not to lust in our hearts, not to divorce and remarry (unless the marriage is unlawful), not to swear, not to seek vengeance, and to love our enemies.  As Jesus says, the new law of grace means being perfect “‘just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’”
            And when we are seeking to live that way, we know that our heavenly Father will take care of us.  Even if a mother could forget her child, God promises through the prophet Isaiah in our first reading, God will never forget us.  God will take care of His servants, even better than Lord and Lady Grantham at Downton Abbey. 
            Of course, the gut check for us is whether we are like a servant, intent on keeping our eyes on the Master and doing His will.  The Prayer over the Offerings today speaks of how the bread and wine are “signs of our desire to serve you with devotion.”  Are they really signs of our intention to serve Jesus?  Where do we spend our time?  How do we spend our time?  What consumes us?  If it’s not seeking the Kingdom of God in all we do, and that certainly includes our daily life, or work, or relaxation, our study, then we are not truly living like a servant.  And then we start to worry and become anxious, because if we have to be in charge of taking care of ourselves, there’s a lot to worry about.  When we have to be the Master, we worry a lot, because we try to go beyond our station.  We are not the Master, and when the servants try to be the Master, it always gets botched in some way.  But, when we are the servants, and content with being the servants, there is a peace and relaxation knowing and trusting that the Master will take care of us.
But as servants of Christ, it’s not just about doing the will of the Master (though that is very important).  It’s also about being with the Master.  As Psalm 62, our responsorial psalm, says, “Only in God be at rest, my soul.”  As servants of the Master who are also sons and daughters in the Son of God, we should also be intent on simply being with the Master, and letting our hearts relax in His presence.  There’s nothing wrong with being like Martha, serving the Lord and doing things for Him.  But Mary has the better part.  Just being with the Lord is also a treasure, and one that we should seek.  So many of us are busy with doing things for the Lord.  How much time do we take just to be with the Lord?
As much as I love “Downton Abbey,” it’s not real.  I’m sure the idyllic picture it paints does not accurately reflect the entire truth in what it was to be a servant in a noble house in the early twentieth century.  But the Kingdom of God is real.  And God’s care for us is real.  And any idyllic picture that we can paint is only a shadow of the peace and joy that awaits those who choose to be servants of our Divine Master.