Signpost for Sunday 2 March 2014: Isa 49:8-16a: Ps 131: 1 Cor 4:1-5: Matt 6:24-34
Next week Lent, but this week we’re just ordinary people in ordinary time. Fortunately, this week’s readings are all about ordinary people and everyday life.
So when Isaiah 16 poetically announces ‘I have graven you on the palm of my hand’ it seems a very apt precursor to Matt 6:24-34, where Yeshua tells us that God is taking care of us.
Unfortunately this is also the passage that has led some nutty people to say that faithful Christians should never need to resort to psychotherapy, counseling or antidepressants. Twaddle.
Anyway, I tend to agree with the school of thought that thinks Matt 6:24 is the crux of the matter. Money appears to be the thing that occupies so much of our lives because we need it – to eat, and live. But if we only think about putting food on the table, clothes on our backs and roofs over our heads, there may be no time left for God. Here is a plea to take time for God. Those lilies of the field have nothing but time for God, birds don’t shop for their food, they are given it by God. This is the beautiful poetry most of us are familiar with but I discovered this week that the original text does not actually specify a particular kind of bird or flower but simply common ones. So the correct translation is really just “wild birds” and “wild flowers”. Is it Tyndale or King James we can thank for the poetry? One commentator suggested that because the setting is the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps Jesus pointed to a flock of wild birds or to the wild flowers growing nearby as he spoke.
But back to verse 24. Crucially I discovered that the author of Matthew is using the Hebrew terms “hate” and “love” because they were established idioms of comparison. This is classic rabbinic rhetoric: it’s nothing to do with hate in the emotive sense, but it’s about establishing a priority. (Once I realised that it makes all the difference to Gen. 29:30, 31, 33; Mal. 1:2-3; Matt. 21:15; Luke 14:26; John. 12:25 and Rom. 9:13).
And, clearly, Jesus does understand how hard life could be in the first century: He starts out appearing to dismissing the daily grind (Matt 6:25) but ends up saying, “Today’s trouble is enough for today” (6:34).
Having said that, I’d like to think one interpretation of this whole passage occurs a little later on in Matthew (11: 28).
Bonus first century trivia: a cubit (Matt 6: 27) was a measurement used in the building trade and was about eighteen inches; it was based on the length between a chap’s elbow and his longest finger. There was also a royal cubit that measured twenty-one inches. Which begs a question: what happened if the king had stubby little fingers?