16 August 2016

Matthew 6:24

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (v. 24)

Psalm: Psalm 135:1-7


For the next few days we follow passages from the second half of the Sermon on the Mount, that collection of Jesus' teaching that Matthew's Gospel gathers into a sustained, inspiring and often uncomfortably challenging address. The Gospel pictures Jesus as a prophetic rabbi, gathering his disciples and giving them his interpretation of traditional Jewish devotion and law. The Sermon on the Mount belongs to its own time and context, but speaks into every situation. It has been at the heart of Christian renewal and resistance. Many of John Wesley's sermons are based on its verses, and one of the most influential Christian books of the 20th century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's 'Discipleship',interpreted the Sermon on the Mount within the rise of Nazism in the Germany of the 1930s.

Today's brief passage leaves us with nowhere to hide. It comes as the climax to a section in which Jesus has probed behind conformity to a religious culture and urged his followers to base their prayer, fasting and charity on a deep relationship with God. Their treasure, said Jesus (Matthew 6:19-21), is found in God's kingdom; that should be where they invest, not in the apparent wealth of the world. And that investment requires a single-mindedness which combines simplicity with openness to God. Verses 22-23 talk about the eye as the light of the body. Recent translations refer to a healthy eye, which doesn't quite reflect the Greek word 'haplous', which carries more of a sense of simplicity, sincerity and single-mindedness.

That brings us to today's verse. Slavery was a universal feature of ancient societies and so Jesus' disciples would have understood that a slave had no identity of their own, but was completely identified with their owner. To have two masters would not simply mean juggling two jobs; it meant having a divided identity. So either we identify with God and God's kingdom, or we identify with an alternative. More often than not that alternative turns out to be wealth and in our contemporary consumerist society we are all too easily seduced by its claims.

To Ponder

  • What signs are there in your life that you have become a slave to wealth?
  • What steps could you take to disinvest from wealth and reinvest in God? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain but since 2004 has served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. His ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.