Sunday, November 19, 2006

Anxiety and Servanthood, Part 1

As I've indicated before, I tend to look out for therefores (and therefore equivalents) when reading scripture. They give us an chance to check out if our logic and God's logic are the same. Especially, I watch out for oft-quoted verses that begin with a therefore (or the equivalent). It's unfortunately not that unusual, and the fact that we start the quote with the 'therefore' indicates that we're starting in the middle, and leaving off the reason for what follows. It's at that point likely that we're missing part of the message.

One such place is Matthew 6:25:

For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?


'For this reason'? For what reason? For that you need to go back one verse:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other; or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.


Now this is a little scary. If 'You cannot serve God and mammon' logically leads to "don't be anxious about even such mundane, everyday concerns as food, drink, and clothing", it would seem to follow that worrying about such things constitutes serving mammon. And serving mammon will keep you from serving God.

Note that this isn't a question of God arbitrarily deciding that if you serve mammon, He won't let you serve Him. It's not 'You may not serve both God and mammon', as though God was laying down a (hopefully waivable) entrance requirement for the Serving God Club. It's 'You cannot serve both God and mammon'. The thing jest ain't possible. If you're serving mammon, you don't have the ability to serve God, no matter how much you may want to. Which means "Don't be anxious about food, drink, and clothing" isn't some high (and, to many of us, irritating) spiritual ideal attainable only by the most advanced Christian. It's informing us of a basic practical fact: worrying about where your food, drink and clothing will come from will rob you of the ability to serve God. If you want to serve God, you will have to deal with this.

7 comments:

Whyte Stonne said...

Dear Orolyn,

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other; or he will hold to one and despise the other."

I'm not sure that it says God won't let you serve two masters. That may indeed be the case, but I find that impossibility in the saying itself.

Basically, you cannot "hate" or "despise" a master, and at the same time serve that master.

You can only serve a master whom you "love" or "hold to."

This does not negate your basic point, however, that you can't worry about your material needs and serve God.

I believe the impossibility of serving two masters goes beyond the options of God and Mammon. Anything can be that "other" master.

The saddest "other master" for the Christian pastor is the organized church, or Christendom.

Many pastors burn out because of the competition between these two masters for their love and loyalty.

Oloryn said...

I'm not sure that it says God won't let you serve two masters. That may indeed be the case, but I find that impossibility in the saying itself.

That's exactly part of my point. We often see Jesus say "You cannot" and take it as if he was saying "You may not". We expect God to be laying down rules of behavior when what He's actually doing is laying out the plain practicalities of what it takes to follow Him. We want Him to be setting up rules that He might graciously shade a bit (or grade on a curve) when we fall short, but He's instead telling us about the sheer practicalities of the life He wants to live in us. One of them is that serving two masters is impossible, and worry about food, drink, and clothing is an alternate master that will keep you from serving God. This isn't an arbitrary rule, it's the plain practical way that this life works.

I believe the impossibility of serving two masters goes beyond the options of God and Mammon. Anything can be that "other" master.

Indeed. But Mammon is a major one (which is why Jesus deals so much with issues relating to money).

Whyte Stonne said...

Got it. No disagreement.

This topic seems to be part of your ongoing concern with poverty, politics, and the Christian's attitude toward the needy.

I have been the "victim" of being a Sermon-on-the-Mount fan during the anti-materialistic, anti-conformity 60's and 70's.

I got a double dose of anti-materialistic social concern, from the Bible AND from the culture.

Thus, I do what I can for people in and out of church, and I'm close to broke!

the reverend mommy said...

A blogposting a day keeps, uhm, the gummi orcs away. Or something.

=o)

John Wesley said...

Dear and Gentle Reader,

I would like to invite you to visit my humble journal, as I start my tenure upon this continent. I have been elucidated by your musings and wish to make your most courteous acquaintance whilst in the Americas.

I am most curious about the manner in which clergy conduct themselves in the colonies, as I am a newly arrived pastor and do not wish to offend the faithful and the savages. So prithee hence to my journal
and let us hold each other accountable in our mutual love of Christ.

I remain God's most humble servant,

John Wesley

Anonymous said...

I should like to offer my most humble salutations and felicitations on this festal day of St. Valentine. I have the highest regard for you and wish we could make acquaintance under more auspicious circumstances as I am sure that these acquaintances may yet become a valuable and enriching friendship as we exhort and instruct each other to be conformed in the image of Christ.

I remain God’s most humble servant,

John Wesley

Herne said...

Since this regards an old post of yours, I don't know if you'll even see this comment.

You are a computer programmer with a Bible degree. I am a neo-pagan with a Bible degree. I've been thinking a lot about these words of Jesus' from Matthew lately.

I think this is the reason for Paul's advice not to marry. An unmarried man may abandon himself to God, while a married man feels responsible for his family's welfare.

I think the choice we face as men is basically between the way of Gandhi and that of Vito Corleone. Most people try for a compromise between them; but each is the fulfillment of an underlying principle that is diametrically opposed to the other and with which there can be no compromise.

This is something that Christian and other spiritually-minded parents should be frank with their kids about -- because their kids are dreaming of secure futures, and spirituality means abandonment of self to God. By not making this clear to their children, by emphasizing financial security, etc., they do their kids a grave disservice. Not only do they teach them to value the wrong things in the world around them, they teach them to value the wrong things in themselves.

I liked your comment pointing out the difference between rules and facts of life. The child wants rules. The child is concerned with being "good" or "bad". The adult acts out of love, or at least out of enlightened self-interest.

In parting, let me say that I share your taste in music. There are songs from SCOA that still give me chills and bring tears to my eyes. I got to see them in concert once, and I'll never forget Annie Herring's "He Loves Me". Never.