1 October 2013

Matthew 6:19-34

"You cannot serve God and wealth." (v.24)


As Jesus delivers the radical teaching we know as the Sermon on the Mount, who does he see around him? What might their expectations be? Social historians root the answers to these questions amongst the rural poor of Palestine.

The 'Jesus movement' was primarily a movement of the poor - a fact and a challenge long recognised by liberation theology (which recognises Jesus as the liberator of the oppressed). What Jesus would have seen in the faces and lives of his closest followers and those of the attendant crowd was low social prestige and even less economic power. These people knew all too well the harsh realities of servitude, slavery and impoverishment.

The Gospels lead us to believe that often, around the edges, lurked members of the wealthy ruling elite and their representatives, powerful and watchful of this danger in their midst. So Jesus' words have a sharp cutting edge for his own society and for ours.

Jesus is quite explicit about the reversal of social destinies which the coming kingdom of God will usher in. The last will be first, and the first, last. The rich will be empty. God's compassion has political consequences. No wonder Jesus was seen to be such a threat. The word translated as "wealth" comes from the Hebraic (Hebrew) and Aramaic word 'mammon' which means 'riches and possessions'. Jesus' teaching is unambiguous and direct.

The Sermon on the Mount hammers home the point that our security and esteem is to be found in God's love for us and in living lives rooted in kingdom values - not in the pursuit of wealth and things. That way closes us off to God and to one another, because inevitably, it is our interests which matter most and not God's.

In contrast, striving to fulfil God's way leads us to each other and to God, as Matthew emphasises later - "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).

To Ponder

  • In what ways are you both comforted and threatened by Jesus' words? Why?
  • In his sermon on the use of money, John Wesley says that we are "to gain all we can without hurting our neighbour". He goes on to exhort us to "give all you can". How do his words challenge you as you seek to serve God?
  • What insights does Jesus' teaching offer in the search for solutions to issues such as climate change, world trade and sustainable development?

Bible notes author

Revd David Perry

Revd Dr David Perry has been the Chair of the Lincoln and Grimsby District since 2000. He has also served in the Southampton and York and Hull districts.