Matthew 6:24-34; More mammon, more problems.

 

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

It would seem this passage has two very distinct parts.  There is v. 24 which is an explicit call to worship God not wealth (mammon), and then there is vv. 25-34 which touches on a number of topics but seems to focus on ultimate trust in God and putting money in its correct position.  However, if we look closely, we see that vv. 25-34 provides a commentary to v. 24 and, set within the context of Jesus’ ongoing sermon on the mount, continues to proclaim the radical message of God’s Kingdom come.

Society in 1st century Palestine could not be more different than 21st century America.  Aside from obvious things like geography and language, 1st century Palestine had a completely different economic system, socio-economic landscape, and what we might call “shared cultural values.”  In short, they operated largely on a barter/trade system rather than a capitalist system and there were clear and accepted divisions among socio-economic groups without much hope of moving.  All of this was unofficially governed by a mutually held cultural ideal of honor and shame.  In other words, a person’s word meant everything (honor) and if you lied you were subject to deep ridicule on a level we might think is overly harsh (shame).

There was one particular aspect in which people in biblical times were very similar to us living 2,000 years later and it has to do with money.  You see, in their time like ours, the thinking was that having more money would mean less problems.  This is a universal human fallacy echoing the hubris that led to the original fall.  We think that if we can hoard all of our money and toys, that we will be happy; and not only that, but find fulfillment and meaning.  We’d like to say money doesn’t rule as our master, but to many times it does.  We’d like to give to the poor more but we cannot because we need so much stuff ourselves.  We have created the cruel irony of working 2nd jobs and overtime instead of sending more time with our kids so that we can buy them more stuff that we won’t have time for!  For those 2,000 years ago and for us, the problem arises in what we have to sacrifice to obtain that “stuff.”  In the face of these errant fantasies, Jesus reminds us that we cannot simultaneously serve the two masters of God and wealth (mammon).  We cannot render undivided service to both “mammon” and God and the scriptures are clear to which Jesus calls those who would be called disciples.  Christian discipleship is not a dualistic venture but a call for our entire selves (not part of it) to be devoted to God and God’s causes.

It is with this understanding, that Jesus then calls us to the radical (radical is a good Sermon on the Mount word) understanding of God’s sovereignty and our trust in it.  We are invited to look at something as simple as the lilies of the fields and birds in the air and note that since God cares for them, he certainly cares for us.  However, using “the lilies in the fields” and “birds of the air” as metaphors should not mean to us that we should all quit our jobs and be lazy under the banner of “trust that God will provide for us.”  Read 2 Thessalonians 3 and see how that worked out for them!  If that was how we should understand this passage, my first question would be, “What about all the lilies of the field and the birds of the air along with human beings around the world that die from drought and starvation every year?  Why didn’t God provide for them?  It would be a severe offense to the scripture to assume that people who annually die from natural disasters did so because 1) they didn’t trust in God and 2) God didn’t care for them.  Given that this passage is within the context of passages about the correct way to view money and material possessions, the proper understanding of this passage has to do with how we prioritize money and other material things.  As one commentator writes, “We assess its usefulness in relation to other and more serious matters such as the plight of the poor and marginalized.”  So it’s not that we shouldn’t have money – just that we shouldn’t worship it.  Use it for what it is and do not idolize it.  Giving it away is not as hard when you realize it isn’t your to begin with.

It is interesting that after some verses about not worshipping money there is a passage about not worrying.  To many times in our lives our worries and anxieties are based on and around money; something, as we have just learned, we are not supposed to worship.  Jesus’ words about not worrying are much easier to hear when we have quit worshipping mammon and begun to worship God.  More mammon.  More problems.

Blessings for the journey,

 

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One response to “Matthew 6:24-34; More mammon, more problems.

  1. Mammon Does Not Serve Us, We Serve Mammon!

    In our modern culture, we believe our money and our possessions free us from mundane work, giving us more leisure time, when in fact the very opposite happens. All you need to do is look around. We spend most our time maintaining our money and our possessions! We don’t even have time to sit down and eat a proper meal! The fast food industry thrives on this fact. Our money and possessions, those things we created to be our servants, become our masters. We have become slaves to money and possessions. Money and things would be good if they served us. But we serve them. We are slaves to mammon. Mammon does not serve us as it should.

    When you are not slaving all the time for possessions you have more time to serve other people, you have time for your neighbor. On top of this, there are less needy people, less people you have to serve, when you are in a society not enslaved to money and stuff. Thus, you are not overwhelmed by the impossible neediness that exists in our culture. Who can find a social worker in our culture who is not burned out after a couple years of working? I know: I was a social worker “do-gooder”. Babylon will accuse you of being a lazy mooch, because Babylon thinks that if you are not a slave you are not productive. If you are not miserable, you must not be productive, Babylon says. I would say a slave can not be truly productive, only destructive, because the slave is creating more stuff to be enslaved to and draining the earth of resources, making resources no longer bountiful for all. You cannot be productive in the world if you are self-destructive. An unhealthy cell in a body is unhealthy for the entire body.

    Babylon constantly proselytizes its propaganda that commercial civilization is better than “cruel” nature. When you watch a typical nature flick on television, you’re fed propaganda that animals are in constant, dreary struggle for survival, the poor, poor things! Listen to the narrators of nature flicks. They almost always sound like they’re ready to slit their wrists. Check out March of the Penguins, as just one example of droves of nature flicks. That film is a beautiful masterpiece, but oh-so-distorted. When you actually experience nature and see it for yourself, why don’t you see such exaggerated struggle? Why is nature so psychologically relaxing while a highway or industrial complex is not? Look at bugs and rabbits and lizards and flocks of birds. Why is there so much play? Where is the whining in nature?

    Natural Selection

    But I’m not naive. Yes, there’s plenty of struggle and conflict in nature, but it shouldn’t be any other way! It’s no more possible to eliminate struggle and conflict as to erase negative charges of electrons! There is enough struggle and death-balance to be challenging, which is exactly what life needs, what we need, but it is not all-consuming as the nature flicks would have you believe. In nature, struggle and conflict is in perfect balance with ease and play. We need struggle and conflict as much as we need food. In fact, food is struggle and conflict. “This is my body: take, eat.” Is there insufferable boredom in nature that you find in our gilded cages of commercial civilization? Will you find a dog barking piteously and incessantly out of boredom and loneliness in nature? Will you find in nature a tiger pacing back and forth, chewing off fur, making bald spots on its coat, as you do in zoos? I know I would rather be dead and extinct than be embalmed alive in a zoo or on a chain in somebody’s back yard.

    Nature abhors prolonged suffering, and naturally selects it out. Commercial civilization thrives on prolonged suffering. How many times have you ever seen a malnourished or obese animal in nature? If, on the rare occasion you might, it will be immediately selected out. But commercial civilization not only coddles and encourages chronic illness and faulty genes, but it passes them on from generation to generation. And we call nature cruel.

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