Proper 8A

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This page is part of the Lectionary series within the Living with Jesus Now project.


Lectionary

  • Isaiah 49:8-16a & Psalm 131
  • 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
  • Matthew 6:24-34




Introduction

The notes for this week simply address the Gospel reading, Jesus' discourse On Anxiety.


Gospel: On anxiety

In Matt 6:25-34 (and its parallels at Luke 12:22-31 and Thom 36) we seem to have a very early "connected discourse" (so, The Five Gospels, 152) that gathers up a number of pronouncements by Jesus around the general themes of living life free of anxiety. While not a single one of these sayings secured a red vote in the deliberations of the Jesus Seminar, the commentary in The Five Gospels (p. 152f) goes so far as to say:

It is possible that we have before us here the longest connected discourse that can be directly attributed to Jesus, with the exception of some of the longer narrative parables.

This enthusiasm for the Stoic-like sayings gathered together in this discourse may say more about the core values of the editors of The Five Gospels than it reveals about the historical Jesus. Still, it represents a significant collection of Jesus material for us to reflect upon as we come towards the end of an unusually lengthy Epiphany season.

Several individual sayings can be identified within this cluster, with the repeated command not to fret about food or clothing providing something of an inclusio for at least the core of the discourse:

  • Don't fret about food and clothing (Matt 6:25a || Luke 12:22-23 || Thom 36:1)
  • Consider the birds (Matt 6:26 || Luke 12:24)
  • Adding an hour to life {Matt 6:27 || Luke 12:25-26)
  • Consider the lillies (Matt 6:28b-30 || Luke 12:27-28 || Thom 36:2)
  • Don't fret about food and clothing (Matt 6:31-32 || Luke 12:29-30)

In response to these exhortations not to fret is the matching positive instruction to seek's God's domain, and to work for justice, in the confidence that all these daily necessities (compare the "daily bread" in the Lord's Prayer) will also be there as required by the children of the heavenly Father. (Matt 6:33 || Luke 12:31)

Matthew's version of this discourse culminates with this summary:

So don't fret about tomorrow.

Let tomorrow fret about itself.

The troubles that the day brings are enough. [Complete Gospels]

The commentary in The Five Gospels fragments this compact discourse into no fewer than 12 discrete sayings, but this seems an unnecessary atomisation of the tradition. Rather erecting a no longer extant tradition with 12 separate sayings, it seems better to observe the simpler structure outline above, while noting an alternative set of similar traditions in Thomas 36. Even so, the parallels in Thomas 36 exist in two very different recensions, with the Coptic version being much shorter and the Greek variant from POxy 655 being elaborated in a direction more like Q and yet perhaps also more gnostic in tone:

  • Do not fret, from morning to evening and from evening to morning, about what you are going to wear. [Coptic Thomas]
  • Do not fret, from morning to evening and from evening to morning, about your food—what you're going to eat, or about your clothing—what you are going to wear. You're much better than the Lilies, which neither card nor spin. As for you, when you have no garment, what will you put on? Who might add to your stature? That very one will give you your garment. [POxy 655]

The practical wisdom about detachment from anxiety over food, clothing, stature, and death is widely-attested in the great religious traditions of humanity. It is, however, an instinct that is deeply counter-cultural in the consumer societies of our own time.

In Jesus' case, this is no "new age" cult of detachment as a pathway to happiness. It is, rather, a call to attach oneself to the few things that really matter: God's domain and the struggle for justice. This is a path that culminates on a cross, not a hot tub spa at resort for exhausted consumers.

Is this perhaps the Epiphany connection for this text with its highly universal flavour?

In such a passionate attachment to the one things that ultimately matters we catch a glimpse of the sacred Doxa.


Jesus Database




Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt's web site

Other recommended sites include:



Music Suggestions

See David MacGregor's Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.