“Treasures” by Fr Dan Carroll, SDB
Word of God and Salesian Life by Fr Juan Jose Bartolome SDB
Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Lectio divina on Mt 6,24-34
The demands that the kingdom of God makes on those who want to belong to it are extremely radical. Jesus warns that a life of piety must not lead to hypocrisy (Mt 6, 1-18), and calls for detachment from earthly goods (Mt 6, 19-21). He now exhorts us to serve God without fear (Mt 6, 24) and not to worry about our own survival (Mt 6, 25-34). The God that Jesus proclaims does not allow a divided love, but neither does he want his disciples to live on nothing. Anyone who serves God cannot also serve money and should stop worrying about himself. According to Jesus, God can demand this kind of love because God himself is committed to caring for those who serve him alone. Whoever opts for God is free from having to worry about his own upkeep. He puts his future in God’s hands and this frees him from the worry of looking for the things he needs, even though he is not completely done with them. Only the person who serves God alone has put his or her life and future in good hands, and so can live with confidence.
At that time: Jesus said to his disciples, 24“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 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? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.”
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it.
This passage might be for us a source of profound consolation or it might seem like useless romanticism. Jesus first recommends an attitude of detachment from the things we possess and then goes on to propose freedom from all anxiety about possessing the things we need. Anyone who has God as his master can live without worry or fear. If we worry about holding on to what we have or about getting what we do not have, we are living as if God did not exist.
The formal structure does not work very well. The famous “logion” of the two masters (Lk16,13; Gospel of Thomas 74) expresses in a useful formula a well-known fact of life: it is impossible to serve two masters at the same time. The issue is not about being a servant of someone – which of us is not a servant? – but about pretending to live under two different authorities. What is interesting is that in Matthew’s use of the metaphor (Mt 6,24d), the two masters are identified – God and Money, both with a capital letter! Being the slave of money is so contrary to God that it prevents us from worshipping him.
What follows is presented as a consequence, although strictly speaking it is not. Jesus believes that only the exclusive service of God can free the believer from the unrest that comes from having to worry about the necessities of life. The frequent repetition of the word ‘worry’ is significant. (Mt 6:25,27,28,31,34). It highlights the central message of the exhortation, which is something more than just instruction. The authoritative tone of the verbs in the imperative and the prohibitions is obvious.
The passage has many words that are closely linked, such as life and food, body and clothing. There are three parts, each beginning with “Do not worry” (Mt 6:25,31,34). The first of these is developed with two parallel illustrations (Mt 6:26, 28-30) separated by a negative statement. The second part repeats the exhortation, with a comment about the behaviour of pagans and the knowledge of God as a supporting argument (Mt 6,31-32). It concludes by pointing out the contradiction there is between worrying over things we do not have and seeking the kingdom of God and its righteousness (Mt 6:33). The third part is very short. It gives another reason: Each day has enough trouble of its own. The repeated use of rhetorical questions (Mt 6:25, 27, 30) tends to provoke the listener to reflect and allow himself to be convinced by the exhortation. The contemplation of nature as a word of God, which speaks to those who listen, is an added motive, very much in keeping with the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth.
II. Meditate: apply the text to life.
It is impossible to serve two masters at the same time. This is something we ourselves often say. However, even we, who say we are following Christ more closely, find it hard to accept that the service of God and the worship of money are incompatible. Jesus was convinced that God provides for his own, and this is one of the most constant themes of his preaching. But the idea that we should not worry about what we are to live on goes against our daily experience, even if we don’t worry about tomorrow because we have enough for today! What is life if not a struggle for existence? We ask ourselves, therefore, if the position taken by Jesus in the sermon on the mount – either God or money – is practical or useful for us today. What would happen if we decided to put it into practice? Do we think it is possible to serve God alone and stop worrying about all that we need for life? Do we really believe that what Jesus asks of us is practicable nowadays?
In a society like ours where the cult of money has become an endless occupation, it is logical that we question the radicalism of Jesus’ position. We live so immersed in a culture of money that we do not begin to understand that there can be a conflict between making money and serving God. From a historical point of view, the capitalization of human life has gone hand-in-hand with the cultural, political, social and human development of our civilization. Generating wealth and increasing our possessions is regarded as a sign of success in our world, without any doubt. However, it is equally certain that religion is the service of God and economics is the service of money. In today’s world the worship of God has been shut off in the private sphere, reserved to one’s intimate personal life, while the worship of money has become the main concern, if not indeed the number one occupation, of our society. Rarely in history have we seen such preoccupation with making money and such an evident lack of interest in God. The more importance we attach to money, the less interest we have in God.
This is not simply by chance. The cult of money, which is so marked among us nowadays, is both the sign and the result of the loss of relevance of God. We, who continue to hope, should give good example by our way of acting. We simply cannot believe in God and make money at any cost. If we put our trust in money, it will soon become a curse on us and on our neighbour.
Jesus has declared an absolute incompatibility between worship of God and worship of money. To the surprise of his listeners, today and in his day, Jesus is convinced that human wealth is a rival to God. Anyone who thinks he is the owner of something will find it difficult to accept that he is the servant of someone. The rich man, who thinks he owes nothing to anybody, easily ignores or underestimates the debt he owes to God. He refuses to recognise his neighbour as neighbour, so that he will not have to acknowledge his debt to him.
Jesus makes no concessions. He says to those who wish to be subjects of the Kingdom, that the service of God is the only way to live, while they await the Kingdom. Jesus wanted those who aspire to the Kingdom of God to live now as if God were their only good. Service of God makes no sense if God is not our supreme Good.
This stance of Jesus is radical and extreme, but it is the logical consequence of faith. The opposition between God and money becomes a command only for those who live according to the logic of the Kingdom, look forward to its coming, and are sure of being able to preserve hope, even though they may feel the power and seduction of money
Only the disciple of Jesus who has God in his heart, and desires only his will and his Kingdom, will be able to free himself from the dominion of money. This does not necessarily mean that the Christian must renounce his goods. Jesus did propose that to some but did not impose it on anyone. However, he certainly thought that renouncing wealth is not a counsel only for a few. It is a permanent demand for all, but only when having money means not having God. When the possession of something, whatever it may be, endangers our possession of God, then we must be able to renounce that possession. Nothing else can ever have the same value as our God. No good can ever be as good as our Father.
This does not mean that wealth is bad, but it can never be as good as God. Jesus knows well that all things are good, but he also knows that they can become an obstacle in our search for God. He knows that wealth has an enormous capacity to alienate us from God. For that reason he asked some to leave everything they had and give it to those most in need, but he demanded of all his followers that they put God before possessions. Jesus expects us not to count how much we own, and not to allow ourselves to be possessed by what we own, but to give ourselves completely to God.
Only someone who understands that God is his supreme good and his greatest value, can face tomorrow without worry. This is why Jesus, after demanding the service of God free from the slavery of money, promises his followers that God will take care of them.
Anyone who has God as his Father should never allow himself to be dominated by what he owns or what he needs for life. Rather, he should live as a son, free from all worry about his existence. We are promised tomorrow not so that we might have more, save more, or make larger investments. God provides bread for his children while they sleep. God cares day after day for the whole of creation, the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. He clothes them with beauty and imagination. Will he not do the same for his children? Precisely because God is good, far better than we can ever imagine, he will surprise us every day with all the good things we need. When we have God, we can want for nothing. Anxiety for tomorrow arises only in the hearts of those who do not know that God cares for them as a father cares for his children.
If we today want to look upon money and the worship of money in the way Jesus did, we cannot be content with simply repeating the words of Jesus. If we accept that there is a total incompatibility between God and money, we will have to put ourselves completely at the service of the one Lord who is deserving of all. To do this we will have to see how and where that complete service can be practised today, and how we must face the challenge of opting for the Lord. If we refuse to face this dilemma, we are attempting the impossible – continuing to serve two masters. The God that Jesus preached does not want half-servants. This teaching of Jesus will appear credible to our contemporaries, only if we, the disciples of Jesus, adopt his vital and uncompromising attitude. It will be of little use to them if we keep on repeating the message, but fail to live it day by day. If we who accept it do not make it credible in our lives, those who come after us will believe it is impossible.
Let us not forget: the Kingdom of God and the credibility of Jesus in the world depend upon our daily attitude to riches. For the sake of both, the Christian must live in such a way that it is evident that he prefers to serve God alone and is happy to live in the present even if he does not have everything.