During the Lenten season this year, I have been rereading the story of Jesus as told in the four biblical gospel narratives- beginning with the Gospel of Matthew.
If we think about Matthew constructing a picture frame around the person of Jesus, one of arms of that frame would have to be Jesus’ words on the Sermon on the Mount (the other three, in my opinion, would be the birth narrative, the combined parable, and the Passion narrative).
As I read the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, it amazes me that no matter how many times I read them or hear them something new stands out each time. This time I was struck by Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-33.
In these verses Jesus speaks about the worry and anxiety that come when we set the need for material things ahead of the things of God. Jesus says if God the Father provides food the birds and clothing for the flowers then how much more will God provide for you and me. Our job is the continue seeking the kingdom of God and righteousness.
On one hand, these verses are great words of comfort, love and compassion and help show the scope of love that God has for us. People struggling with unemployment or financial insecurities obviously find Jesus’ words reassuring. But also people who worry about work, illness, relationships- or anything for that matter- can find relief in these words.
On the other hand, when we actually think about how to apply these verses, especially within a Western culture, it become much more difficult. But I think that as we try to apply these verses, there are several things to remember.
1. God is not a genie who magically causes the fulfillment of our needs to appear at our doorsteps, in our refrigerators or in our closets.
If God is not a genie, how does God provide?
2. God provides by and through the help and intervention of people. For most of us in a Western culture, we live lives of independence and self-sufficiency and the idea of relying on others probably causes us more worry than going hungry or naked would. But throughout history, God has chosen to work in the midst of community and Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-33 only seem applicable through the lens of community where members of that community take care of the needs of each other.
3. One of the calls of the church is to be that community where members take care of the needs of each other. Again, for those of us in Western culture, admitting need to anyone (sometimes even to God) that we are in need fills us with discouragement and self-doubt but if we cannot come to the community of the church and express those needs- who else on earth can we express those needs.
If God provides by and through the help of others, what is up with this seeking bit?
4. Jesus calls us to seek the kingdom of God and righteousness. What is the kingdom of God? There are whole books that help us to understand what Jesus meant by that phrase but at least part of it includes the rest of the Sermon of the Mount, as well as, Jesus’ words to John the Baptist in Matthew 11:4-6.
5. As we seek the kingdom and seek righteousness both individually, which is one aspect of the ethical message of the Sermon on the Mount, and as a community, as we see in Matthew 11, it is then that all the other things are added. I’m not sure how that works but Jesus is clear on the mathematics.
As we prepare for Easter Sunday during this Lent season, I pray that we will gain a fresh perspective on Scripture that we have read over and over. And I pray that we gain a better understanding of the community of the church.
Come back next week as we continue looking at new perspectives to old Scriptures.
© Ryan Vanderland 2013
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