Looking Lectionary: Epiphany 8A

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“No one can serve two masters…”

Reading: Matthew 6:24-34 NRSV

24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will 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 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 can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry 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 clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

I find it telling that Jesus’ personification of wealth as an evil master is retained by using the Aramaic word “Mammon” in the Greek text of Matthew. This part of Jesus’ discourse presents wealth and its attendant worries as a unified issue. Jesus thus draws an interesting parallel between worldly worry (over self-centred, earthly concerns) and idolatry.

Worry does share many characteristics with “pagan” or law-based idolatry: we pay worry nervous attention, we fearfully structure our thoughts and lives around it, we worship it with spillover emotions like anger, frustration and fear, we seek to appease it with constant mental and emotional fidgeting, we become agitated when we cannot indulge it.

This provides an interesting contrast to the Kingdom life Jesus has been expounding from the start of Matthew chapter five: a life marked with peace amid persecution, blessing amid difficulties, care and attention in an indifferent world, personal and communal responsibility as opposed to “the done thing” and skew societal norms.

In presenting these two masters, Jesus is obliquely and gently showing us which one it would be better to be devoted to to the hatred of the other. If serving Mammon with worry, fear and anxiety is so terrible – and it is, for neither worry not idolatry changes anything or threatens the Truth – then surely it’s better to serve your Father and be in service of his kingdom?

That’s the challenge to tackle in our Epiphany 8A sermons, blog posts, devotionals and ruminations: how fundamentally different God’s Kingdom is from the world, and how desperately the world needs God’s Kingdom reality.

Blessings for your sermons,

L

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