Sunday, April 15, 2007

Don’t Worry... I’m Still Here.

I know I’ve been gone for a while- the intermission wound up being longer than I planned. Between the drama festival, a major computer crash, and a case of the blahs I strongly suspect is related to Seasonal Affective Disorder, I’ve been out of the loop for five weeks. But as the saying goes... I’m Baaaack! So, let’s return to the midrash on the mount shall we...

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV

In our last lesson Jesus gave His take on prayer, fasting and alms-giving; the three universal practices of any religion. You might call them the legs of the three legged stool called spirituality. Not Christianity — spirituality; these three apply to any system of spiritual belief.

Jesus now goes on to deal with the distractions to spirituality, and hence to our relationship with God. He lists four of them: wealth, self-righteousness, stubbornness, and timidity. We’ll deal with the last three next time; for now, let’s look at the biggest distraction of all... Wealth.

I say wealth is the biggest distraction for the simple reason that Jesus spends more words in these passages talking about the wealth than he does about the other three put together. He starts by making a direct connection between the things we treasure and the condition of our hearts.

You see, the concept of storing treasure either on earth or in heaven is not actually about financial planning. It’s far more radical than that. It’s about the true nature of freedom. If we can see that all of life is a gift from God, and that all we have is the result of God’s provision, then we are free of the hold that life could have on us, able to give generously. If, however, we regard life as the proverbial ‘rat race’, a ‘dog eat dog’ competition for scarce resources, then we become slaves to that struggle and how much we have determines whether we win or lose.

That’s what Jesus is saying in verses 22-23. Modern science and its understanding of optics has taught us to see the eye as a receptacle for light, gathering it is so that a clear and focussed image of the world around us can be seen. But an examination of the writings of Jesus’ contemporaries reveals that Jewish philosophers of the day saw the eyes as a source of light, and the light that shone from those eyes determined how we see the world around us. If then, the way we see the world casts everything in light - that is we see the goodness in the things around us, then we address that world with a generous and caring spirit. But if we see only darkness when we look around us, then everything we do, even seeming acts of charity, with be done from a suspicious and begrudging viewpoint.

Jesus then goes on to cast wealth in the role of more than a simple distraction. He, in effect, calls it a god. By referring to God and wealth (mammon) as two masters he is saying that if the distraction of wealth is severe enough then we regard the demands of wealth as being in conflict with the commands of God. We have all experienced what it is like to have two bosses give us conflicting instructions; life becomes a constant tug war between the two supervisors and we are the rope. In the same way, trying to live the good life and a good life will pull us in different directions. We can’t serve both God and mammon.

Then, as always, Jesus strikes at the real heart of the issue. Its not really about money, but rather, it is about security and the future. Ultimately the decision whether to serve God or wealth is a matter of trust, and it is a life of trusting God that Jesus seeks to inspire us with His imagery of the birds and flowers.

At first glance, Jesus’ talk of birds and lilies isn’t all that compelling. Sure, birds and lilies don’t worry a whole lot, but then birds don’t have a mortgage on their nests and the lilies don’t have to figure out where their seed’s college tuition is going to come from. But Jesus wants us to do more than just glance at them.

The verbs emblepo (look at the birds of the air), and katamanthano (consider the lilies of the field ) are very strong verbs in the Greek. They invite us not to merely look with our eyes, but to consider carefully (emblepo), and learn thoroughly (katamanthano) all that we can about the carefree existence of nature, were God provides lavishly and concern does not exist beyond the moment. A world without the stress and ill health brought on by worry.

This then, is the true distraction which is disguised as wealth — worry! The desire to acquire wealth, to worship at the altar of our possession rather than at the feet of God grows out of greed, but at its deepest level, it is born out of worry about our status, our security, and our ability to survive beyond tomorrow.

The statement, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (vs 34) was likely a popular expression in Jesus day. But in the context of this midrash it becomes a Kingdom saying. The citizens of the Gospel Kingdom know that whatever tomorrow brings, it will bring God along with it. He will be there tomorrow, just as He is there today. And as long as that is true then we indeed have nothing to worry about.


Exploring the Kingdom Gospel - episode 11

1 comment:

Gord said...

Very thoughtful and well written (as is often the case) thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.