Commentary on the Gospel of
“It is not enough to pray, “thy kingdom come,” but to work, so that the Kingdom of God will exist among us today.” St. Ursula Ledochowska
As I sat with today’s readings, both my grandmothers came to mind, especially my Nanny Marie. She grew up being shuffled from one relative’s house to another after her mother died when she was six.
Growing up I was very fortunate to have two grandmothers that I saw on a regular basis. In terms of appearance and personality, these two were quite a contrast. One was a tall strong woman who grew up on a farm and was very active in her parish. The other was a short, petite woman who was always looking for the shortest Sunday mass in town.
Base on behaviors and outside appearances, I thought my Nanny Kal was much more spiritual and holier than my Nanny Marie. She attended daily mass and was an amazing cook and baker who must have raised hundreds of dollars for her church as people would bid up her bake sale items. At 80, she went to the County Home and pushed the old people to the chapel for Mass. She was very generous with her time and talents to her parish community.
On the other hand, my Nanny Marie was not quite honest about her age so she could get a cashier’s job at a drug store in a tough neighborhood. At 71, she had shrunk to 4’11’ and probably weighed less than 95 pounds. One night shortly after she started working there, some Hell’s Angels came in and thought they would have some fun intimidating her. Their leader, a big guy, leaned over the counter and snarled, “I bet you’re scared of me old lady!” My Nanny Marie barely glanced up from her magazine and replied, “I have grandsons who look worse than you.” which made him laugh. He put the word out that if anyone messes with Marie, they were messing with the Hell’s Angels.
So, on the surface, Mabel and Marie’s grandchildren thought Nanny Kal was much holier and closer to God than our Nancy Marie. As kids we knew what we saw and what we saw was that church was much more important in Nanny Kal’s life.
What we couldn’t see as kids was that Nanny Marie’s church were the people she met. While she didn’t convert any Hell’s Angels to Catholicism, she did build a community of sorts as they would sometimes confide in her. She often took us to breakfast which was a huge treat for children who never went to restaurants. Almost every time, someone pulled one of us aside and told us to tell our family what saint our grandmother was. And we would all have a good laugh, thinking they had the wrong grandmother.
As we were scoring things on the surface as kids, we knew our Nanny Kal was a much better Catholic than our Nanny Marie. But today’s Gospel reminds us that our work is not what people see. What others think of us is not what God thinks is important.
In my younger days, I would often do things so people would think I was a good person, not necessarily because I was trying to follow Jesus. I realize that was probably not such a bad thing. Knowing God is watching even we think others are not can help nudge us into doing the right thing.
We all want to be thought well of, to have people respect us. However, today’s reading dramatically reminds us that we are called to be about the work Jesus has given us. Not once, not twice, but three times Jesus admonishes us not to toot our own horn about how “holy” we are. Our work is to quietly be about building the kingdom of God here on earth and not doing things just so others will think highly of us. That’s what Jesus wants us to focus on, not potential awards or accolades which will distract us from doing his work.
While both my grandmothers were about doing God’s work, they both went about in in very different ways. One was very respected and held up as an example of servant leadership in her parish and the other quietly helped God’s struggling children wherever she found them. When I would bring up how well people thought of her, my Nanny Marie would reply, “you do it because someone needs help and you just hope when you need help, someone is there to help you.”
We are all called to use the gifts God has blessed us with to serve others. What a lucky girl I was to be close to two very different grandmothers who did just that. It wasn’t a competition for them, they were just following an old prayer about being “the hands and feet of Jesus”. And that is how we build God’s kingdom here and now, one quiet kindness at a time.