On the 3rd Sunday of Matthew
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
This Sunday’s biblical reading is from Matthew 6: 22-33. This section of the scripture is a part of what is called “the sermon on the mountain” which begins in the fifth chapter and ends in the seventh chapter. Christ’s sermon commences with the Beatitudes, followed by a teaching on Christian life and how to live it. At the conclusion of the teaching, we read that the crowds were astonished because “He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes,” (Matthew 7:29).
The Gospel passage begins: The Lord said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness.”
We can understand this to mean that the physical eye is the body’s window to the outside world through which the body can see light and what is around it. If this window is dirty and dark, it will prevent the body from seeing the reflection of light on objects, and therefore will not see them. Such is the mind (nous), which according to the Fathers of the Church is the spiritual eye of the soul. If the mind is pure and full of good thoughts, then the works of the body will be good and luminous.
According to St. John Chrysostom,
“Christ does not here speak of an exterior, but an interior eye. He, therefore, who directs all his thoughts to God, may justly be said to have his eye lightsome, and consequently his heart undefiled with worldly affections; but he who has all his thoughts corrupted with carnal desires is, beyond a doubt, enveloped in darkness.”
The mind is the eye of the entire soul. When the mind is pure, all is pure in our soul and the whole person is pure. This idea is mirrored in the teachings of the Neptic Fathers of the Philokalia, whereby the mind (the nous) is the inner eye of the soul. The mind (nous) dwells in the ‘depths of the soul’; it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart. The intellect is the organ of contemplation, the ‘eye of the heart’. All spiritual struggles of man are based on guarding and purifying the mind and then enlightening it until it reaches the state of Theosis.
Jesus then moves on to teach His disciples and the crowd about their attitude to money and all bodily concerns:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
In the original text, the Lord borrowed from Aramaic the word māmōn which refers to a Syrian deity or ‘god of riches’, as well as referring to ‘wealth’.
The Lord personifies the concept of wealth and money through mammon; not because money is a god, but because it dominates and controls the souls of its seekers. Money has the potential to enslave us and cause us to worship it as if it were a god!
Jesus calls mammon here ‘a master’ not because of its own nature, but on account of the wretchedness of those who bow themselves beneath it. “He calls him a god, not from the dignity of such a mistress but from the wretchedness of those enslaved,” says St. John Chrysostom.
“No man can serve two lords.” What does Christ mean when he says this? Christ is saying here that it’s impossible to serve two lords who command things that are opposed to each other. Therefore, worship of God and mammon are irreconcilable.
The Apostle Paul says that the love of money “is a root of all kinds of evil,” (1 Timothy 6:10) and continues: “For which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” He further warns in his letter to the Hebrews: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’,” (Hebrews 13:5). The issue here that St. Paul is highlighting is that someone who worships money can do so to such a degree that they begin to trust in it more than they trust God. And then there is a “lack of faith” in God’s care.
In the Book of Revelation, St. John writes to the angel of the church of Laodiceans saying:
“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked,” (Revelation 3:17).
The problem of man who trusts only in his wealth is that he dispenses with God and replaces Him with his wealth and money, so Mammon (money) becomes his god. He thinks that he is rich because he has money, but in fact he is poor and destitute because he put his hope in his fleeting wealth.
In the teaching of St. Mark, the Ascetic, avarice is one of the three giant passions along with self-esteem and sensual pleasure, as all three blind the mind (nous) of a man. (Philokalia)
The Lord Jesus commands His disciples and the crowd, saying: “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink; nor about your body, what you shall put on.”
The words “do not be anxious” are repeated four times in this biblical text. This is Christ reassuring us to “not worry, do not be anxious” as His love is enough to sustain. He does not repeat these words in the sense of indifference or laziness.
The Lord Jesus gives us an image from nature of the birds of heaven and the lilies of the field. Both are weak and small creatures and yet “the birds of heaven your heavenly Father feeds them and the lilies of the field your heavenly Father clothes it, Are you not of more value than they?”
Man is the “Crown of all of God’s creation.” He is the only one created “in His image and likeness”. If God takes care of these irrational beings, should He not take care of His rational creation, which are in His image and likeness?
The Lord’s teaching on this matter is not to be confused by an assumption that Christ is asking us to be anxious and disturbed by the ephemeral earthly matters of life: food, drink, and clothing. His call is not a call to laziness, unemployment and destitution, but rather a calling for trusting in God for our basic needs, both outer and inner.
According to St John Cassian, the demon of listlessness is a vice occupies number six among the list of eight vices which we must struggle against in order to grow up in our spiritual life. St. Paul the Apostle, the teacher of the nations, the herald of the Gospel, who was raised to the third heaven, says that the Lord ordained that “those who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel,” (1 Corinthians 9:14). St. Paul shows more clearly the harm born of laziness by adding: “if anyone refuses to work, he should have nothing to eat”. He provides a remedy, however, with the words: “Now we instruct such people … to work quietly and to eat their own bread,” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).
This concern for the meaning of anxiety and turmoil in the depth is nothing but a “lack of faith” (verse 30). The Lord asks us to reset the priorities of our lives. Food, drink, and clothes are necessary to sustain our life, but the Creator of all knows the basic needs of our human nature and he will take care to provide it to us. The Lord wants us to seek first “His kingdom” and to set it at the top of our priorities “His righteousness” and all other needs will be increased for us. Amen.
+ Metropolitan Basilios