Text: Matthew 6:24-34
February 27, 2011 - 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In our text today, Jesus says: "Today's trouble is enough for today." That certainly feels true today. Today we have Middle Eastern countries in various stages of revolution. Today we have the Governor of Wisconsin at war with the public employees union over how to handle a budget shortfall. Today we have the Governor of New Jersey at odds with a teacher's union over a lack of money. That makes us feel good about living in Texas. At least we aren't having those kinds of problems, we think. But then we read the local newspaper and find that our own school district faces a 200-300 million dollar shortfall this year and that figure translates into a layoff of about 3,500 teachers at a salary of $50,000 per year. Our conflicts in the public area center on a lack of money.
Our scripture reading reveals that Jesus wants us to seek God's Kingdom first but the Bible is ambivalent in regard to money. There are Bible verses that support wealth as a sign of God's blessing. Other Bible texts view wealth as a curse. Even the Gospels show ambivalence on the subject of wealth. For instance, once as he went out into the street, a man came running up to Jesus, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?"
Jesus said, "Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't lie, don't cheat, honor your father and mother."
He said, "Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!"
Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, "There's one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me."
The man's face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.
Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who 'have it all' to enter God's kingdom?" The disciples couldn't believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: "You can't imagine how difficult. I'd say it's easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for the rich to get into God's kingdom." (Mark 10:17-23; The Message)
On another occasion, Jesus was at Bethany, a guest of Simon the Leper. While he was eating dinner, a woman came up carrying a bottle of very expensive perfume. Opening the bottle, she poured it on his head. Some of the guests became furious among themselves. "That's criminal! A sheer waste! This perfume could have been sold for well over a year's wages and handed out to the poor." They swelled up in anger, nearly bursting with indignation over her.
But Jesus said, "Let her alone. Why are you giving her a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives. Whenever you feel like it, you can do something for them. Not so with me. She did what she could when she could—she pre-anointed my body for burial. And you can be sure that wherever in the whole world the Message is preached, what she just did is going to be talked about admiringly." (Mark 14:3-9; The Message)
Furthermore, in Luke's gospel, we find a list of people including Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for Jesus and his disciples out of their resources. (Lu 8:3)
I think Jesus main stance is neither for nor against wealth. Rather, Jesus wants us to transcend the concern for riches and trust in God that our needs will be provided for. Jesus says in our text today,
"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?(Matthew 6:25) This sentiment is expressed elsewhere in the New Testament in the Epistles, where we read:
"Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)
"Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, 'I will never leave you or forsake you.'" (Hebrews 13:5)
The idea of trusting in God's provision was a reality in this culture in which a sabbatical year was held every seventh year. This was apparently a widespread practice in Jewish culture in Jesus' day even though it is not often mentioned in scripture. (The International Commentary, Davies and Allison, p. 647) Also, remember the exodus story where the people of Israel followed Moses into the desert without asking or worrying about where or how they would be able to feed themselves. So in their religious practice and stories, the Israelites trusted in God's provision at their best. Of course, we know they repeatedly failed to live up to God's expectations. Perhaps the most dramatic example of the Israelites failure to trust in God's provision comes from the story of the Golden Calf.
When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, "Do something. Make gods for us who will lead us. That Moses, the man who got us out of Egypt—who knows what's happened to him?"
So Aaron told them, "Take off the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters and bring them to me." They all did it; they removed the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from their hands and cast it in the form of a calf, shaping it with an engraving tool. (Exodus 32:1-4, The Message) This shameful episode in Israelite history ended with a plague concluded when God sent a plague on the people because of the calf they and Aaron had made. (Exodus 32:35) We as churches sometimes build a golden calf that takes the place of our devotion to and dependence upon God.
We gather earthly treasures to ward off anxiety. Yet Jesus says God takes care of the necessities for those who seek God first. Specifically, Jesus says, "Look 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?"(Matthew 6:26)
Birds in flight seem to have a sixth sense about how to stay very close to one another, only a few inches apart, and yet to never touch one another in a way that would cause a collision. There is a certain unity in spirit that the Holy Spirit creates among a healthy congregation that allows us to work closely together without violating one another's personal space. This same mysterious source, let's call it the Holy Spirit, causes the joy that comes from flying in formation with other members of our species. As Eckhart Tolle writes in his book, A New Earth: "Joy does not come from what you do, it flows into what you do and thus into the world from deep within you." (298)
If anyone thinks such images are too abstract, Jesus then gets very practical, saying: "And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?" (Matthew 6:27) The answer, of course, is no. Worrying is usually misguided and unnecessary. Yet is may become the overwhelming attitude with which we approach life. Worry becomes a sort of energy center like the eye of a hurricane. It gathers energy from other sources such as the daily news. We are concerned about the state budget deficit. We fret over the revolution in Libya. Wars and rumors of wars become our daily diet through CNN and Fox News. Even our spouses or parents or friends may feed into our worry and give it energy.
In the midst of our self imposed storm, Jesus steps in to calm the storm, saying: "And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But 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?" (Matthew 6:28-30)
We achieve a worry free life by drawing our energy from an unseen Source. Jesus says: "But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own." My personal belief is that today's budgetary problems will not be solved quickly or easily. We will through days of turmoil and transition as we learn to do more with less or less with less because less is what we will have. But I am hopeful that after we make it through this transition in our society, several years from now, we will be better off than we are today in some meaningful ways. In the meantime, let's take it one day at a time. Today's trouble is enough for today." (Matthew 6:33-34)