|High Mass at Saint Bartholomew 's Brighton, UK|
Jesus said, "I warn you then. Do not worry about your livelihood, what you are to eat or drink or use for clothing. Is not life more than food? Is not the body more valuable than clothes?"
My friends, I suggest that, as we hear these words of Jesus this morning, we have a real problem trying to understand what it is that Jesus is saying. Do any of us really believe what Jesus said this morning in this Gospel? Don't worry about what you are going to eat or drink or your clothing. Your heavenly Father, after all, knows you need all of these things. Do we really believe that? We know that we must scramble for the things that we need, the essential elements of our lives. Or does it mean that we are to take Jesus' word for it and wish each other a happy "thy kingdom come" and then wait for LeAnn Chin to cater our next meal? I don't think so; that is not what Jesus has in mind here.
The words from the sixth chapter of Matthew's Gospel are a part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon there are many things that Jesus teaches us about how we are supposed to approach this life. There are a few verses that precede this morning's Gospel reading that are also a part of what Jesus is trying to get across to us and, I think, flesh out much more clearly what Jesus is really trying to say. If we begin with the nineteenth verse rather than the twenty-fourth verse of the sixth chapter, Jesus begins by saying, "Do not lay up for yourselves an earthly treasure. Moths and rust corrode; thieves break in and steal. Make it your practice instead to store up heavenly treasure where neither moths nor rust corrode nor thieves break in and steal". Then He goes on to say this. "Remember where your treasure is, there your heart is also. The eye is the body's lamp. If your eyes are good, your body will be filled with light. If your eyes are bad, your body will be in darkness. And if your light is darkness, how deep will the darkness be!" Finally, the third statement with which we begin our Gospel today, "No man can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be attentive to one and despise the other."
What is it that Jesus is really trying to get across to us? He is simply trying to teach us that we are to realign our priorities. But the number one priority has to do with Jesus being Lord; that we worship Him first; that we honor Him as sovereign first and foremost. It is so important that we do not put God in second place because Jesus warns us that if we become so involved with the things of this world, if we become so involved with all of the effort that it takes to earn the living, to clothe ourselves, to feed ourselves, and so forth, what we are liable to do is to put God in second place. And God does not take a back seat to anyone. He does not belong in the back seat of the Lexus. God is first. That is what Jesus is trying to teach us above all this morning. That should be fairly clear to us.
But I submit to you we still have a problem. Can Jesus really be serious that we are not to be concerned about what we are to eat or what we are to drink or what we are to wear? "Seek first the kingdom of God and everything else will be added unto you". Are we supposed to stand around and wait for everything to be handed to us? Is that what Jesus has in mind? How are we to understand this? We certainly can't take this Gospel reading and have it make any sense in the face of what we know to be a real world. Tell the people of Somalia that they don't have to worry about what they are to eat. Tell the people down at Mary Jo Copeland’s Mary's Place that they don't have to worry; that God will provide somehow. No, it doesn't make sense that way, does it? Of course we are to be concerned about these things.
But how we are to be concerned is the trick. That's the way to understand this Gospel reading. First of all, we have to know that when the Gospels were written in the first century of this era, they were written in the bosom of the Church. This is the Church's book. Christians understood right from the very beginning that they were the Body of Christ. Christ our Lord was risen and lives now in His Body, the Church. As they understood that, they cared about one another. In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke describes what that first century community was like:
"The community of believers were of one heart and one mind. None of them ever claimed anything as his own, rather everything was held in common. With power the apostles were witnesses to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great respect was paid to them all. Nor was there anyone needy among them. For all who owned property or houses sold them and donated the proceeds. They used to leave them at the feet of the Apostles to be distributed to everyone according to his need" (Acts 4:32ff).
Now it should be understood that this is not an endorsement of some kind of communal living which excludes the way in which we would live now. The point of Luke's narrative here is simply this: within the context of the community, they took care of one another. They cared for one another and they understood that this was of the very essence of their Christian vocation. "By this will all men know that you are My disciples: that you love one another" (John 13:35). They translated that love for one another into the caring they showed to one another within the community. That is the important thing to understand. If we read the letter of James, the second chapter contains something that is even stronger. This is what James writes:
"My brothers, what good is it to profess faith without practicing it? Such faith has no power to save one, has it? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day and you say to them goodbye, good luck, keep warm and well fed, but do not meet their bodily needs, what is that? So it is with the faith that does nothing in practice. It is thoroughly lifeless" (James 2:14-17).
This is how the people of God in the first century understood how they were to translate their faith in the risen Lord into something that was truly dynamic. They did care as a community for one another. They met the needs of one another within the context of the community.
Can we do that in our little community here? To a great degree, yes we can. But I think we ought to understand that there are people who are well fed who are still hungry; who are empty, who despair. There are people who are well clothed; people who are warm in body and yet cold in spirit. These too are a part of a community that we would gather together and minister to. You and I can understand what Jesus is trying to say when He tells us, "Don't worry about all of the things, like food and clothing and shelter." He's not saying, "Ignore these things." He's saying to you and to me, "Don't blame God if they aren't there."
We criticize God: "Well, if only God would deal with some of these horrendous problems that we see in our world. Why can't God do something about them?" Certainly it's within the realm of possibility that God the Father could work a lot of miracles. He can certainly feed five thousand with five barley loaves and two fish. God can alleviate the problems in sub-Sahara Africa by lifting the drought. That is within His power. He can do all kinds of things. Yet rather than to say, "Why doesn't God do something? I think what Jesus would want us to understand is, you and I are entrusted with a lot of this work because we are the Body of Christ now. We might not be able to alleviate a drought. But people who are dry in spirit near us we can treat. People who are hungry for the Word of God, for the truth, we can speak to and say, "This is the Word of God." We can do those things. That's possible.
It's not only possible. It is our obligation. For this we were baptized and for this we were confirmed, strengthened by the Spirit: in order that we can do these things. Don't worry about food and clothing because the community is supposed to be doing something about them. You and I. The Word of God is pointing out to us that we are not merely here to receive everything. The community does not exist for us; the community exists in order that you and I might give to one another, might share with one another, might uplift one another. Hard words? Yet they are true. Do you remember the very beautiful prophesy of Isaiah in the forty-ninth chapter?
"Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will not forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands, I have written your name" (Isaiah 49:15-16).
This is the fidelity of the Lord God to the people of Israel who were in exile. This is the Fidelity of the Lord God in the person of Jesus Christ to each and every one of us. But understand it well. It is also the word that you and I are to live by because if God is that way, so as "imitators of God", as "his very dear children", so you and I would not forget one another. We would not forget that we need one another. This is the Body of Christ. This is the Body of Christ at prayer. This is the Body of Christ ministering to one another. This, my friends, is the Church!
Have a good week,
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne