The Calvary Baptist Church of Detroit

"Church of the Open Door: Year of the Lord's Favor" Revelation 3.8; Luke 4.18-19


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The Believer’s Freedom from Anxiety
Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A (2017)
Matthew 6.24-34

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. Today’s trouble is enough for today. – Matthew 6.33-34 (NRSV)

The Holy Spirit and Dr. Fred Craddock inspire today’s lesson.

Today’s Gospel reading moves us from Matthew 5, where we have been for four Sundays, into Matthew 6; but the subject is essentially the same – the higher righteousness, the life-style of those who belong to God’s realm. Having considered what this theme meant in terms of human relationships, we turn now to think about the relation of God’s people to material things.

Verses 24-34 belong to a larger unit beginning at verse 19. In verses 19-21, Jesus warns against amassing wealth and urges a life rich toward God. In verses 22-23, disciples are reminded that only the eye that is clearly focused can see and therefore bless one’s whole life with light. Apparently, this is a call to single-mindedness away from a life of dark confusion created by double vision; that is to say, a life of split affections or loyalties. This image easily introduces verse 24, which says the same thing but less subtly and more rigorously; no slave can serve two masters. One cannot be a servant of both God and wealth. This image, in turn, introduces the subject of verses 25-33, anxiety about material goods. The word “worry” or “anxiety” translates a Greek term having the base meaning “split attention” or “divided concern.” Hence, beginning at verse 22 the fundamental problem of double-vision, two masters, or divided concern has remained at the center of Jesus’ teaching.

Our lection proper consists of three parts: warning about trying to serve two masters (v. 24), injunctions against anxiety over material goods (vv. 25-33), and a call to a life in the present rather than borrowing from tomorrow’s woes (v. 34). By including verses 24 and 34 as a part of the proclamation text, the injunction “Do not worry,” which governs the central body of the passage, is already being interpreted by Matthew’s context. By opening which the image of serving a master, worrying about things already means making materials or wealth one’s master or ruler. This is important to note because it moves the instructions about worry over food, drink, and clothing out of the normal place it occupies in a healthy life that bears responsibility for providing life’s essentials for oneself and one’s dependents. The teaching, then, is not a call to carelessness or irresponsibility or indifference to human need. In view of verse 24, the warning is against a slavish, anxious, worried service to wealth as though money were one’s owner or master. This is the distortion that splits or divides a life between God and things, between persons and wealth, between love of others and greed. This is the distortion that dries up the springs of gratitude (no one can at the same time be grateful and greedy), closes the door of hospitality to strangers, refuses to open the purse before human need, trusts money rather than God with one’s future, and learns too late the destructive force of greed’s demand on marriage, family and community.

The cure for such a diminished life is not to regard material things as evil. On the contrary, the text states that God knows we need these things and God will supply them (vv. 32-33). No, the cure is trust in the providence of the Creator. As the ancient sage drew lessons from nature, so Jesus points us to the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. Arguing from lesser to greater, Jesus simply asks, “Are you not of more value than they?” (v. 26). If one believes in a knowing and caring God, how absurd to think that there is a certain level of income that will add to the length of one’s life (v. 27). The Creator is the Creator, and created things are created things. If we accept the value, but only relative value, of all creation and see ourselves, too, as a part of creation, then the Creator becomes primary again, and God’s concerns for the world become our concerns. Vision clears, we stand before only one master, and all these things are ours as well.

As stated above, just a verse 24 provides a contextual interpretation of verses 25-33, so also does verse 34. The introductory verse 24 interpreted worry as a slave trying to serve two masters; the concluding verse 34 interprets worry as a preoccupation with the future. Concern about what diseases, tragedies, pains, and privations tomorrow may bring can be totally debilitating. As a result, the gift of today is lost, and so will the gift of tomorrow be when it becomes today. Jesus is surely prompting his audience to remember the daily feedings of manna in the wilderness. Or perhaps he is recalling a petition from the prayer he has taught his followers: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6.11).

Love,

Lawrence T. Foster