Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is the fundamental ethical code of Christianity. It is a long text, which the church reads slowly over the course of six Sundays. It contains many of Jesus’ best known exhortations: Turn the other cheek! Love your enemies! Give to all who ask! Unlike those passages, in which Jesus instructs his followers how to act, in this week’s reading, Jesus teaches his disciples what to avoid.
He pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber. (Ps 127:2)
Have you created any “idols of mammon”?
What anti-Gospel do they preach?
What worries do you need Jesus to take from you?
“You cannot serve both God and mammon.” Mammon is word that has defied translation. Scholars debate whether it comes from a word meaning “treasure,” a word meaning “rations, daily bread” or a word meaning “trust.” In popular speech, the term may have implied all three, as Jesus plays on each of these ideas in his preaching. Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, he instructed his disciples to “store up for yourselves treasure in heaven.” Later in the same discourse, he teaches them to pray by saying, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In today’s Gospel, he exhorts his disciples to trust God for their every need.
Mammon itself is not an evil thing; it includes necessary things for survival, like food, clothing and shelter. But when concern for these things becomes a person’s primary goal, one falls into a type of idolatry. Deified mammon preaches its own anti-Gospel: “There is not enough for all; everyone is against you; you must be anxious at all times or you will not get what you need; what little you do have is in constant danger of slipping away.” Idols create more idols: “Clothes are important! What you wear means something about you. Food is important! What you eat means something about you.”
Jesus cuts through this folderol with one command: “Do not worry!” God created everything we need to thrive and distributes it plentifully. Jesus illustrates this with examples from nature. Plants and animals do not worry about their survival, but they still find what they need. Their characteristics and actions manifest the Creator’s will, which they never question and from which they never deviate. Jesus’ disciples must display the same unselfconscious trust in divine providence and eagerness to do God’s will.
Thou shalt not worry! This commandment comes from the fundamental ethical code of the Christian community. We ought to write it over the door of every home, on every kitchen calendar, on the frame of every computer or tablet or television screen, on every checkbook and housing loan. This is not because bad things will never happen; they will. Constant anxiety will not keep them from happening, but it will dull our ability to discern God’s providence at work. A lifetime spent noticing God’s gifts and offering thanks for them will help us recognize God’s deliverance when times are bad. Anxiety gnaws away at our sensitivity to God’s actions and the ability to feel gratitude. Instead of worry, Jesus teaches to go about the business of God’s kingdom: to love our enemies, go the extra mile, share our gifts with the poor and do to others only what we would have them do to us. Then we will receive everything we need and more.