24“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.
25“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.
Translation: No one is able to serve two masters, for that one will hate the one and love the other, or one he will hold to one and the other he will despise. You are not able to serve God and wealth. For this reason, I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, what you might eat and what you might drink, nor what you might put on your body. Is not life more than meat, and the body of clothing? Behold the birds of heaven, that they neither sow nor reap into barns, and your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you, worrying, is able to add to his stature one cubit?
And why worry about clothes? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not nor spin. But I say to you that not Solomon in all his glory is clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, alive today, (and) tomorrow cast into the oven, how much more you, people of little trust?
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, "What might we eat?" or "What might we drink?" or "What might we wear?" For all these things, the gentiles desire. For your heavenly Father knows that you need quite all of these. But seek first the kingdom, and its justice, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have its own cares. Sufficient to the day the evil of it.
Background and situation: The reading is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. The reading for Epiphany 7 closed out chapter 5. One would expect that Epiphany 8 might begin with 6:1. It doesn't, probably because Matthew 6:1-21 is the reading in most traditions for Ash Wednesday. One should note that 1-21 includes the Lord's Prayer and an important summary statement in v. 21: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Incidentally, it's the rare year that even has an 8th Sunday after Epiphany. By my calculations--which, admittedly, I did in my head while stuck in traffic--an 8th Sunday after Epiphany is only possible if Easter falls later than April 22. This is rare.
Verse 6:24 is from the Q source--the parallel is Luke 16:13--and 6:25 has a (sort of) parallel in the Gospel of Thomas (v. 36). The rest of the passage appears to be Special Matthew.
Serving two masters: The opening verse of the reading recalls verse 21--"where your treasure is"--and sets the stage for the rest of the passage. The summary statement is: "No one is able to serve two masters...You are not able to serve God and wealth."
Being split between two masters is, basically, a form of schizophrenia. (The word "schizophrenia" literally means "split mind".) Two masters will make competing demands. You can't follow them both. Thus, "you cannot serve God and wealth" is not a statement of moral judgment, or even moral encouragement, but rather a statement of simple fact. You are not able (dunatai) to do it.
"You are not able to serve God and mamona"--or "mammon." The word mamona is Aramaic in origin and appears to have its root in "what is trusted in." It then came to mean "treasure" and then "wealth" or "worldly possessions," which is how it is used in the New Testament. Later still, it would be identified with demons. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, equated mammon with "Beelzebul." In the four gospels, it appears only here in Matthew and three times in Luke.
Mamona should be seen in the context of 6:21. "Mammon" itself is that "treasure" that holds our heart, which is why worldly possessions and wealth are in fundamental conflict with service to God.
Wealth in context: Only about 5-10% of the people of ancient Israel had much wealth, though these few were very wealthy indeed--rich beyond belief would be another way to put it. They were, first of all, the aristocratic families, many of whom were of Greek or Roman background, who had received their property through military conquest--the plunder of war. These rich families were very rich, and constituted perhaps 2-3% of the people, at most.
There was a big drop-off to the next level, which would have included the major tax collectors, and those who held high positions with the major landowners. The tax collectors and landowners were agents of political oppression.
The priests and scribes in Jerusalem, while not necessarily rich in terms of assets (though some were), nevertheless lived in palatial splendor. As the tax collectors were political oppressors, the priests and scribes were religious oppressors. The people caught it from both sides. Their political oppression was being supported by their religious leaders. This next level of wealth made up perhaps another 4-5% of the total population.
Everybody else was poor. 75% of the people were merchants, fishermen, artisans, and farmers. Today, these are respected professions--lucrative, in some cases. Then, however, these workers operated at a bare subsistence level. We would call this "third world." The very bottom rung of the social ladder, the "fourth world," accounted for as much as 15% of the people. They were beggars, cripples, prostitutes and criminals who lived off the land outside the cities.
This calls into question most traditional interpretations, as if Jesus were giving poor people a lecture on how they ought to get better at handling their money. In fact, his listeners would likely have agreed with Jesus that "you are not able to serve God and mammon."
With the various taxes they paid approaching 50% of their already meager income, they regarded their economic superiors as rapacious and obviously following mammon more than God. They didn't think too much of those who lived high on the hog at the peoples' expense while the people themselves were near starvation.
Anxiety and worry: These ten verses contain six injunctions not to worry--six negative uses of merimnao, which means anxiety, worry, full of cares, consumed with distractions. With "mammon" as our "treasure," we'll never have a moment's rest. We'll always be worrying about holding on to what we have or trying to get more.
The great Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, once defined anxiety as "the next day." We don't know what will happen "the next day," which creates anxiety this day. Therefore, we are consumed on this day with trying to anticipate future calamities against which to protect ourselves. Since there is no end to the calamities we can anticipate, we're always uncertain and constantly chasing after something which, we hope, will decrease our level of uncertainty.
This never works. Acquiring things doesn't reduce anxiety. It generates anxiety. You buy some kind of insurance to protect you against some kind of risk, which means that you now have one more bill to worry about paying, as well as worry about the loopholes your new insurance policy doesn't cover. (All that fine print? It means "we're not responsible.")
John Meier says that today's text may be seen as a commentary on the fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer (6:11): "Give us today our daily bread."
Discipleship frees one to trust in the only true Giver and Sustainer of life. The coming kingdom already shapes the present life of the disciple. His God (sic) does not simply dispense from the trials of this life, but grants him a higher security even in the midst of his trials. Free from anxiety, the disciple is free from confused priorities: one's life and body are the main gifts from God; food and clothing are just means to an end.
True enough, but not the whole story. Food and clothing are important. Try living without them, as some did in first century Israel, and you realize very quickly how important they are. Jesus does not discount the peoples' needs. In fact, he says that their physical needs are known and understood by God: "For your heavenly Father knows that you need quite all of these."
Jesus goes further. Not only does he reject anxiety about wealth, he rejects the entire premises of the established market system. Not only can you not serve God and mammon, do not be bothered by the whole mechanism of getting things. Notice he included both the men, who were mainly involved in food production, and the women, who were mainly involved in clothing production.
"For this reason, I say to you, do not be anxious for your life (psyche)." Psyche means "life" or "soul," or, even better, "the essence of life," or "true life." (We get our word "psychology" from psyche.) Despite your very real needs, true life is not about food, or drink, or clothes. True life comes first through the kingdom, the earthly application of which would mean food and clothing for everyone.
"Birds of heaven...lilies of the field": "Behold the birds of heaven"--a striking image of freedom! "They neither sow nor reap into barns, and your heavenly Father feeds them."
Jesus identifies God as "your heavenly Father." The same God to whom they have appealed for "daily bread" (6:11) and daily sustenance is on their side. God does not belong to the Temple elite, but to you, the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the peacemakers. This is otherwise known as "the preferential option for the poor."
This has nothing to do with soothing the anxieties of affluence. It has nothing to do with counseling modern people to keep their obsession with wealth in better perspective and urging them to be better Christians in their application of it--not that that's a bad idea necessarily, only that Jesus has much bigger things on his mind than that.
It has to do with disconnecting from a heirarchical system which generates anxiety and worry in the first place. The rich, currently on top, can't take it with them--(nor perhaps even keep it while they're here; Does Herod Antipas strike anyone as being free of anxiety?).
Why worry about clothes? A better question might be: Why does Jesus even mention clothes? Because clothes were the outward mark of social rank. This is true today as well, of course, but it was really true then. The wealthy, including priests and scribes connected with the Temple establishment, were easily identified by their snazzy robes. Jesus rips into fancy clothes more than once. In 11:8, he talks about "those who wear soft robes...in royal palaces." It wasn't a compliment there, and it isn't here either. This is a barbed reminder of the high social rank of their overlords.
Another barb follows. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow." They don't break a sweat. Even that fat cat Solomon--the original Temple oligarch--doesn't have as fine a robe as these little flowers.
Solomon would not have been a positive reference in Galilee. He was not highly regarded by the ancestors of the native residents because his life of personal opulence was built on heavy taxation. When Solomon died, c. 922 BC, Galilee withdrew from the united monarchy--they seceded from the union, you might say--and joined the northern kingdom. You don't do something like that if you're happy with the way things are.
People of little trust: "But if God so clothes the grass of the field, alive (onta) today, (and) tomorrow cast into the oven, how much more you, people of little trust?" Jesus is speaking to the crowds on this occasion. Later in Matthew, it is the disciples who will be said to have "little trust."
Contrast that with the "great" faith of the Canaanite woman in 15: 21-28. In other words, the outsider woman, identified as a "Canaanite," the ancient enemy of Israel, is lauded for her "great" faith, while the disciples and other would-be followers are routinely "little" in theirs.
The crops of the field are nourished by God, raised up in God's field--"how they grow"!--and gathered in to make daily bread for the life of the world. How much more you! Like the crops of the field, which God raises, processes and distributes, those who follow the way of the kingdom also lose their own life for the life of the world.
First the kingdom: "But seek first the kingdom, and its justice, and all these things will be added to you." Dikaiosyne may be translated "righteousness" or "justice." Translating as "righteousness" is to be avoided, IMHO, because it is often understood in terms of personal morality. The context makes clear that Jesus' concern is more social justice than individual sanctity. Indeed, this is nearly always the case.
Note again: "first the kingdom, and its justice." Then, "all these things will be added to you." When the kingdom is lived on earth--that is, when all people have dignity, when open table fellowship is practiced by all, when hierarchy is upended, when all people are treated as beloved by God--then indeed there will be peace and plenty and more than enough for everyone.
"Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have its own cares. Sufficient to the day (is) the evil of it." (Here one sees that Jesus and Matthew have been reading their Kierkegaard.)
In the kingdom, people live without anxiety over "the next day." Besides, Jesus says, there's plenty of evil around right now, today, this minute. Indeed there is, and he has named it, rejected it, and reframed the nature of the peoples' reality: Your overlords tell you that God blesses the current arrangements, but that is not so; God is on your side.