The Prophet Isaiah announces that even if a mother should forget her child or be without tenderness for her child, God will not forget us (Is 49:15).
Similarly, in today’s Gospel, (Matthew 6:24-34), Jesus uses the beauty of wild flowers, grass in the fields, and birds of the sky as examples of how God takes care of natural things. Jesus asks, “Are you not more important than they are?” If God gives us life and bodies, will He not also give us bread to sustain them?
Jesus tells us: “Stop worrying over questions like, What are we to eat, What are we to drink, What are we to wear? ... Your heavenly Father knows all that you need“ (Mt 6:31-32).
This passage can orient us to great faith in God as our Father but if it is misunderstood we can get ourselves into difficulties. St Thomas Aquinas acknowledges: “Observe that from this passage heresies took their origin” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew).
How? St. Augustine, writing in the first part of the fifth century, tells us that some people were saying that spiritual people, such as monks, should not work but rather they should let God provide for their needs. St. Augustine wrote a book, On the Work of Monks, demonstrating that true monks worked to support themselves.
Augustine pointed to the example of Paul who worked as a tentmaker, even as he traveled in his missionary journeys (1 Cor 4:12; 1 Thess 2:9). In fact, the Thessalonians are instructed, “Whoever does not work, should not eat” (2 Thess 3:10)
St. Augustine gave an example: “Should a person in difficulties do nothing in order to free himself? … the Lord said, ‘When they persecute you in one city, flee to the next” (Mt 10:23). The person should “flee” which is to take action.
Thomas Aquinas tells us that while God’s care for the birds and the wild flowers can give us assurance of God’s providence, God cares for humans in a different way:
God has providence concerning man’s actions, yet so that He provides for everyone according to their manner, because He provides in one way for men and another way for birds. He did not give the power of reason to the birds by which one can procure things necessary for oneself. But all is endowed to them by their nature, but to man He gave the power of reason by which he may procure things necessary for himself. Hence, He gave all things to men by giving him the power of reason (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew).
Thomas comments: “The Lord wishes that in all things man would do what he can while hoping in God. God will give to him what He shall see to be expedient …
Wherefore if we do what is in us, He will do what is in Himself” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew).
In other words, as we, with our reason and our gifts, do what we can, God assists us. We also have to realize that God has a plan, which is called “providence.” Because God has intelligence and will, He knows and He loves. God knows the “end,” that is the purpose God has in mind for us. He also knows the “means” by which this will be brought about and directs the means to the end. Thomas offers the example of a builder knowing the order of the stones to put into house.
Thomas reflects: “For this it is necessary that God have providence concerning human affairs, it is required that He know and understand these things, and that He will to direct these things to their end.”
Jesus declares: “For your Father knows that you have need of all these things…” and ‘If you then being evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven, give good things to those who ask Him” (Mt 7:11). Thomas comments, “He would not be a father unless he were a provider.”
We do our part but God’s makes our efforts effective. We plant a seed, cultivate around it and water it but growth is really in God’s hands, as Paul says: “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Cor 3:7).
Thomas comments: “The benefit of the Divine promise is related in such a way that all human efforts cannot be equated to His.”
Thomas describes the anxieties that may distract us from confidence in God: “Solicitude for temporal things is forbidden… namely that we should not put our end in them, that we should not seek them excessively, that we should not occupy our minds with them too much, and that we ought not to despair of God’s providence” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew).
However not all solicitude for temporal things is wrong, as Thomas explains: “Observe that the Lord does not intend to forbid that a man be somewhat solicitous concerning what he ought to eat tomorrow. For he does not teach men to observe a greater perfection than the Apostles themselves observed, but He had a purse, as it is said, in John concerning Judas, who was carrying the Lord’s money” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew).
Our concern, like the concern of Jesus is for the Kingdom of God: “Seek first His kingship over you, His way of holiness, and all these things will be given you”(Mt 6:33).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew are taken from the translation of Fr. Paul M. Kimball, published by Dolorosa Press in 2012, pp. 280-296.