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AHC A Seek First the Kingdom of God Ordinary 8 - Hebrew Catholics

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Seek First the Kingdom of God

Ordinary 8   Year A

A Hebrew Perspective
www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

St. Matthew 6: 24 — 34

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Introduction

Our reading presents to us a very beautiful reassurance that those who choose to be loyal members of God’s Household will find that our Heavenly Father provides generously whatever we need. Our reading begins and ends with an emphatic call to be absolutely clear and decisive about — not what we are going to spend our lives chasing after, — but whom we are going to serve. Our Lord is intensely focussed on demonstrating to His followers that the evidence in support of God’s provision speaks for itself. His teaching therefore highlights the need for us to be very clear about our membership of God’s Household, and be strongly committed to carrying out His Divine Will. At this point we invite you to recall how God’s People Israel needed to be confronted with personal choice about where their loyalties lay. Joshua’s entreaty, “Decide today whom you will serve,” brought a decisive response which welded the people together and led to a strong commitment to serve God alone! (Read Appendix   Joshua 24: 14 — 18). Our Lord is calling forth a similar commitment from His listeners.

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Reflections on our text

Verse 24

“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and
love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.

Our Lord’s words are well known even by people who are not religious: “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” Jesus is saying, “You cannot serve both my Father and Mammon, the God of Riches” — using the Phoenician word, Mammon, much as we speak of the almighty dollar” (Kleist and Lilley). Our Lord is speaking as did Joshua — you serve the Lord God with all your heart and soul, mind and strength, or you don’t serve Him at all; you serve God or idols — make up your mind here and now, what (or rather who) it is going to be!
 
Verse 25

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what
you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will
wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than
clothing?

Our Lord uses a form of rabbinic logic which we often hear from Him:

“If God gave us our life and body He will also give us lesser gifts,
the food and clothing that are necessary for our life and body.”
                                                                         (Hartman and Kennedy.)

Jesus continues to “unpack” this principle with various examples.

Verses 26 and 27

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they
gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds
them. Are not you more important than they?

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your
life-span?

Some animals are renowned for their storage of food. Our Lord, however, takes as his example “the birds in the sky”. They have to search constantly for their food and yet they are still provided for. Obviously our Lord is not suggesting we should imitate the birds and plants in their freedom from needing “to work”. Neither should we ignore danger and sensible, rational methods of living. That would be irresponsible and not show true respect for God’s provision. Our Lord is not forbidding reasonable provision for future want, but excessive attention to them. If anything, constant anxiety about our life will shorten, not prolong it. Jesus condemns harassing anxiety because it betrays a lack of trust in Divine Providence and leads to neglect of one’s spiritual interests. (Kleist and Lilley).

Verses 28 — 30

Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way
the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.

But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.

If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today
and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much
more provide for you, O you of little faith?

So now our Lord focuses particularly on clothes. In all honesty, most of us are fairly particular about how we look. That is not His main point: rather He is challenging the all too human desire to use clothing to give ourselves increased dignity, or to qualify for acceptance in a particular niche by being a slave to fashion. Jesus puts a rapid end to that nonsense and reminds us that the simple “clothing” God provides for the fields and hills outstrips in regal splendour anything man can produce.

“If the Creator so cares for His creatures, how much more the Father
for His children. Man’s years outlast the season of the flowers and,
at the end, he is to be gathered into the granary of eternity
(See Matthew 13: 30), whereas the dead herb is destined only to serve
man’s humbler needs (i.e. for heating).”                          (A. Jones)

We see how our Lord appears to end this little section with a mild censure: “You of little faith.” In fact our Lord, in the style of an ernest rabbi, is not telling them off but encouraging them to let go of what is holding them back. In our contemporary language, He may have said something equivalent to the style of a teacher using “we” meaning “some of you”: “We have a little bit of spiritual growing to do, don’t we?” He has been talking about being anxious as to what we think we need, and this anxiety is an indicator to us of our lack of belief.

Verses 31 and 32

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or
‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’

All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly
Father knows that you need them all.

Put simply, the non-believers among whom we live make all these things an object of relentless, eager search. Here our Lord repeats His theme: “Your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” You are a member of God’s Household, Jesus implies, and as such your pre-occupation with these lowly matters betrays both His loving concern as well as your privileged status in the world. Therefore, watch carefully, just how much they occupy your thoughts and your actions. You have more important things to do!

Verse 33

But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.

This verse is the bold statement, the “big idea” to which our Lord has been building up. Most of us have learnt this saying of our Lord as it is translated here: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The word “righteousness” in this context refers to the presence in one’s mind and actions, of the Torah, the Sacred Teaching of God. The words of our Lord could be translated: “Let your first concern be the Kingdom of God and what He requires of you.”
 
Thus the lesson Jesus emphasises is that, yes, material possessions and provisions are important, but earnestly seeking to know the Will of God and carrying it out — these must always be our top priority. In Biblical language this always means that, above all other loyalties, attractions, obligations and interests the great Commandment given through Moses and reaffirmed by Jesus, is to be given the closest attention:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
       
                                                 (Deuteronomy 6: 4 and Mark 12: 29).

Verse 34

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care
of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

Our Lord closes this portion of His teaching in a typical rabbinic way. Having stated His “big idea”, the core matter, He rounds off with a saying or two.

Daily life will, indeed, bring new challenges. They are best met fresh each day and faced in a spirit of prayer and confidence in God’s grace.

His last little saying was probably a common one of the time, and given as a signal to bring His delivery to a close.

 

Conclusion

Our Lord’s lesson is powerfully positive and reassuring. It contains the words and teaching of the Messiah who has come to fulfill God’s promises, and to lead us to our heavenly home. True to His style, our Lord spells out the traps we need to avoid, and emphasises the trust we can have in God, especially as members of His Household.

We close with a summary from a very fine study of the Gospel of St. Matthew.

The common excuse for undue pursuit of worldly goods is desire to provide for an uncertain future, in modern language the desire for “social security”. Christ, with a deep sympathy for the sufferings and needs of the poor, teaches them the folly of this excessive worry about the future. First He argues from natural reason, that worry is useless since it cannot change the future, and harmful since there are sufficient troubles in the present without adding to these by worrying about future troubles. Then, secondly, He argues from faith, that God who takes such good care of His irrational creatures, such as the birds and the wild flowers, will certainly take care of us, His rational creatures, whom He loves much more than these. If we attend to the thing of primary importance, the service of God, He will attend to such secondary things as the preservation of our earthly life. Therefore we should not be preoccupied with the things of the earth as the non-believers are who do not know God.
 

This is how Jesus our Messiah taught us to know, love and serve God in the world. It is the way to true happiness for all eternity.

Shalom!

 

 

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Ordinary 8 ― Year A

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
so, remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating
how you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going
reflection.

Seek First the Kingdom of God

Ordinary 8   Year A                             St. Matthew 6: 24 to 34

1.      Our Lord is very clear about the most basic issues for members of God′s  
         Household. We need to make a conscious (and informed) choice about
         whom we are going to serve and then to stay on track ― avoiding the
         false attractions to deviate from it. This is a practical application of what
         Jesus called the “Great Commandment” (Deuteronomy 6: 4 and Mark 12: 29).

2.      It is so very human to become anxious about the future. So human, in fact,
         that our Blessed Messiah made a special point about trusting our
         heavenly Father: “If He gave you your life in the first place, then trust Him
         to ensure you will have what you need to stay alive.” We all like the logic,
         but quickly resort to, “But what if …..”. This is a deadly peril and we are
         warned not to go down that path.   

3.      The more we become anxious about our future, the more self-centred we
         become in amassing wealth, possessions and what we think will be a
         secure future. In such circumstances, there is less room and time for
         other people and their needs to come to our attention. On the other hand,
         the more faithfully we can follow the Messiah’s call, the more likely we are
         to respond to the needs of others in the world ― whether it be  spiritual
         or physical need. To seek first the Kingdom of God is to keep on target to
         love God wholly, above all else, and love our neighbour as ourself. Trust
         is the first requirement as members of the Household of God and the first
         step in re-uniting people separated from their heritage or introducing
         others to membership of this wonderful Family.

Let us pray for one another that we will stop dumping the burden of a great new revival on God, and demanding some great prophet to sweep us off our feet, and get down to serious study of the Sacred Scriptures and teaching of the Church on faith and trust in our Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ — and help one another to put it into practice. God will reward that, but it may be in another place at some other time. Now that really will stretch our trust — but that is what He asks of us in His Appointed, in fact, Anointed One: Jesus, Messiah, Word of God.

Shalom!

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Matthew 6: 24 — 34

Ordinary 8     Year A

                                             NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

24     15  “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate
         one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise
         the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

25     16  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
         what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what
         you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body
         more than clothing?

26     Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap,
         they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father
         feeds them. Are not you more important than they?

27     Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your           
         Life-span?17

28     Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way
         the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.

29     But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
         was clothed like one of them.

30    18  If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows
         today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not
         much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

31     So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What
         are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’

32     All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father
         knows that you need them all.

33     But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his
         righteousness, 19  and all these things will be given you
         besides.

34     Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care
         of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

 

15 [24] Mammon: an Aramaic word meaning wealth or property.

16 [25-34] Jesus does not deny the reality of human needs ( Matthew 6:32), but forbids making them the object of anxious care and, in effect, becoming their slave.

17 [27] Life-span: the Greek word can also mean “stature.” If it is taken in that sense, the word here translated moment (literally, “cubit”) must be translated literally as a unit not of time but of spatial measure. The cubit is about eighteen inches.

18 [30] Of little faith: except for the parallel in Luke 12:28, the word translated of little faith is found in the New Testament only in Matthew. It is used by him of those who are disciples of Jesus but whose faith in him is not as deep as it should be (see Matthew 8:26; 14:31; 16:8 and the cognate noun in Matthew 17:20).

19 [33] Righteousness: see the note on Matthew 3:14-15.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine,
Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All
Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced
in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

 

Appendix

 

 Joshua 24: 14 — 18

 NEW AMERICAN BIBLE

 14    “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve him completely and
         sincerely. Cast out the gods your fathers served beyond the River
         and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.

15    3  If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom
         you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or
         the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As
         for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

16     But the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD
         for the service of other gods.

17     For it was the LORD, our God, who brought us and our fathers up
         out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed
         those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along
         our entire journey and among all the peoples through whom we
         passed.

18     At our approach the LORD drove out (all the peoples, including)
         the Amorites who dwelt in the land. Therefore we also will serve
         the LORD, for he is our God.”

3 [15] The gods your fathers served: Abraham’s ancestors were polytheists.

 

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine,
Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All
Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced
in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

 

 

 

 

 

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