Chapter & verse: Matthew 6:25-34
This is a challenging but also comforting passage. Challenging, because, as Susan Durber showed us in her July/August column, we aren’t good at money-related stuff. Comforting, because Jesus says God knows our needs, and if we do God’s work, these things will be given to us. But, as the new students* and I sat together one evening thinking about our placement contexts and church experience, we found we had a question:
“How can I share that in my community placement?” asked one student. “How is that a message of good news when God doesn’t seem to be providing? When the people we meet need the foodbank even though they trust in God?” “How is that a recommendation of an attitude to daily living for the poorest?”
As we asked these questions of the text we noticed a number of things. First, against the picture we had previously had of Jesus preaching the sermon to the crowds, we found that Jesus “saw the crowds”, then went up the mountain and “his disciples came to him … and taught them” – “them”, as in the disciples, not the crowds who had been left behind. The teaching that we find in Matthew chapters five to seven, then, is for those who already call themselves Jesus’ disciples. The Beatitudes (“Blessed are those …”) tell the disciples about the marginalised. The disciples are addressed as: “You are the salt of the earth …” (Matt 5:13) and so they learn about their own lives too.
The second thing we noticed was the framing of the teaching of chapters five to seven. Before the sermon we have a summary passage in which Jesus is “proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness,” (Matt. 4:23) and many are being brought to him. After the sermon, Jesus comes back down the mountain, the crowds follow him again, and his healing ministry is renewed. In other words, the teaching to the disciples is framed by Jesus’ response to the most marginalised. So, as we look at the teaching of the sermon, we find the guidance disciples need in order that they, and we, might live amongst the most disadvantaged and seek the kingdom of God. How we live with money will be vitally important as the snapshot of discipleship that others see in us. The lilies are clothed and fed – and we have enough. Those without should not see us striving for more when they have so little.
The third thing we noticed was the opening word of the lectionary passage – “therefore” – meaning this teaching about not being anxious is the climax of what has gone before. Matthew shows the building up of Jesus’ teaching, and this is the culmination, the punchline, as it were. Of what?
We need to look back through the sermon. Once the lives of others and then of the disciples have been described, then they hear about the true import of the law, the appropriate way to practise spirituality, and the right attitude to money – if they have heard this and put it into practice, then they will be in a position to live life without anxiety, striving for the kingdom and relating in Jesus’ own transforming ways to the marginalised. The power of the “therefore” should not be ignored – it is the key which unlocks the role of this piece of teaching in our lives. “Don’t worry about your life …” is not a demand that comes out of the blue that we need to hand on to others, it is the culmination of the guidance that Jesus is offering to us on our journeys of discipleship.
The Revd Dr Rosalind Selby is principal of Northern College, Manchester
*Liz Adams, Paul O’Connor, Angela Rigby, Lorraine Shorten, Daleen ten Cate
This article was published in the February 2014 edition of Reform.
Read more articles by Rosalind Selby