Matthew Chapter 6:25-34

This will conclude Chapter 6.

25 Διὰ τοῦτο λέγω ὑμῖν, μὴ μεριμνᾶτε τῇ ψυχῇ ὑμῶν τί φάγητε [ἢ τί πίητε,] μηδὲ τῷ σώματι ὑμῶν τί ἐνδύσησθε: οὐχὶ ἡ ψυχὴ πλεῖόν ἐστιν τῆς τροφῆς καὶ τὸ σῶμα τοῦ ἐνδύματος;

Because of this I tell you, do not care for your soul/life what you will eat, [ or what you will drink ], neither for your body for what you will wear. Is not your life/soul (made) full by meat, or your body by clothing?

The first words are extremely interesting. “Because of this”. If you have forgotten, the verse before was that no one can serve two masters. And so how does this have any influence on not worrying about food and clothing? Frankly, I don’t see the connection. So this goes back to whether this chapter is a tightly-constructed piece of rhetoric, or a grab-bag of disconnected sayings. I suppose that, if we assume “mammon = money”, then not serving the latter would mean that one may have more concern about such physical necessities as food, clothing, and shelter. So this interpretation would buttress both the idea that, indeed, mammon = money and that this is a tightly-constructed piece of writing. In which case, I should not have broken when I did. It’s just that when I was looking for a break point, I didn’t immediately see the flow between Verses 24 & 25. I’m still not sure I do.

And here again we have to decide the translation of “psyche”. As you can see, my knee-jerk reflex is that this is ‘soul’, but that then I had second thoughts about this, so I waffled. Here, I think, it has to be “life”. Because note the distinction: food is for “psyche” and clothing is for “soma”. The latter is clearly and obviously “body”, in that clothing is a physical covering for a physical entity. Food, OTOH, is what is needed to keep us alive, to support our life-force, as it were. Of course, there is the life as represented by the word “bios”, but that I think has a much less refined, or much more generalized meaning for “life”. Which is why we study “bio-logy”. Then too, the Latin is “anima” rather than “vita”. But the distinction between ‘blunders’ and ‘sins’ we ran into in Verses 14 & 15 should teach us that the Latin is not always a reliable guide. It can provide useful clues, but it has already been coloured by a few centuries of developed Christian dogma. In any case, this passage illustrates just how fluid the line between these words is. Given this, how justified are we in reading “soul” in other places?  

For example, this is only the second time we’ve encountered this word in Matthew. The first was back in 2:20, when it clearly meant “life”. We won’t encounter it again until Chapter 10. We will have to take a close look at the implications there.

25 Ideo dico vobis: Ne solliciti sitis animae vestrae quid manducetis, neque corpori vestro quid induamini. Nonne anima plus est quam esca, et corpus quam vestimentum?

26 ἐμβλέψατε εἰς τὰ πετεινὰτοῦ οὐρανοῦ ὅτι οὐ σπείρουσιν οὐδὲ θερίζουσιν οὐδὲ συνάγουσιν εἰς ἀποθήκας, καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁοὐράνιος τρέφει αὐτά: οὐχ ὑμεῖς μᾶλλον διαφέρετε αὐτῶν;

Look at the birds of the sky, they neither sow nor do they reap, nor do they gather in(to) barns. Yet your father in the heavens feeds them. Do you not matter more than they? 

For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic And The Spirit Of Capitalism. This, of course, is the work that gave us the idea, if not exactly the phrase “Protestant work ethic”. One of the blurbs was that the book describes how certain Protestant thinkers, especially Calvinists and their Puritan progeny, were able to use Scripture to justify the idea of work, of gain, of being wealthy as a sign of God’s favour, and then to ascribe this success to Predestination, so that this wealth was the sign that you were one of the Elect. A bloody convenient way of rationalizing greed and a complete indifference to one’s fellow humans. After all, if they’re Reprobate, why bother? They’re all going to Hell, so why try to alleviate their lot? And then we come to this passage. 

Now, especially if we assume that we are still operating under the God/mammon dichotomy, and that mammon means “wealth”, I have a really hard time figuring out how Scripture can be used to justify the accumulation of material wealth. In fact, this is one of the more anti-materialistic passages in the NT if I recall correctly. And it’s not just a negative pronouncement, like the camel going through the eye of the needle; rather, it’s a positive lifestyle admonition. As such, this pretty much represents the genesis in Western thought of the sort of call of active renunciation of wealth that the Buddha made popular in India and points East.

This attitude, and the idea/ideal of “apostolic poverty” became a big thing in the Western Church after the year 1000. Most of the movements that came to be deemed heretical professed this ideal, and this made the Church establishment very nervous. By the year 1000, the Church had become an enormously wealthy institution, and many bishops were great landowners and so were secular military powers. So the Church started to condemn these movements as heresies, even though there was little wrong with the doctrine preached. The most popular, and the most endemic, was the Waldensian movement, which survived underground for three centuries and eventually merged with the Reformation. Another dangerous–to the Church, anyway–heresy was the Cathar movement of southern France. In many ways, the Cathars were really a separate religion rather than a Christian heresy. They were thoroughgoing dualists who condemned the material world outright. But their priests truly lived the ideal of apostolic poverty, as Matthew is establishing the concept here. Eventually, Urban III preached a Crusade against the Cathars, and they were more or less exterminated. But their ideal lived on.

This was the ideal that Friedrich Engels called the desire for an “église à bon marché“. Which is often so charmingly translated as “a cheap church”. The idea was that the bourgeois wished to divert much of the wasted capital tied up in golden chalices into capital that would be useful for industry. Eventually, enough of the bourgeoisie banded together to make this work; this is usually called The Reformation. Max Weber thought that the Protestants then created a work ethic, but he’s got it exactly backwards. The work ethic, and the desire to engage in profitable business, created Protestants. In America, the most commercially successful of the early Colonies was Massachusetts, which was founded by Puritans. That is, English followers of the Dutch Reformed Church. That is, the Dutch branch of the Calvinist Church (if ‘church’ is the proper word). As such, this Calvinist outlook is still very much alive in the attitudes of the business culture in the USA. Much of the near-sacred veneration of the free market is traceable back to the backlash against the attitude Matthew is setting forth in this passage.

26 Respicite volatilia caeli, quoniam non serunt neque metunt neque congregant in horrea, et Pater vester caelestis pascit illa. Nonne vos magis pluris estis illis?

27 τίς δὲ ἐξ ὑμῶν μεριμνῶν δύναται προσθεῖναι ἐπὶ τὴν ἡλικίαν αὐτοῦ πῆχυν ἕνα;

Who among you, worrying, is able to add upon your stature a single cubit?

This is interesting. The KJV translates this as I do. The idea is that one cannot make oneself taller. That is the literal meaning of this. However, it has come to be read as “an hour upon one’s life”. Sure, the conceptions are not wholly dissimilar; the idea is that we haven’t the power to make changes to our physical selves, whether it’s about height or about the length of our lives. So why does the metaphor get changed from height to length of life?

While the sentiment expressed isn’t exactly new–humans were powerless against such things, and against the gods from time immemorial. What’s different is that it’s turned to the idea that “God will provide”. But this is only new in what will become the West.

27 Quis autem vestrum cogitans potest adicere ad aetatem suam cubitum unum?

28 καὶ περὶ ἐνδύματος τί μεριμνᾶτε; καταμάθετε τὰ κρίνα τοῦ ἀγροῦ πῶς αὐξάνουσιν: οὐ κοπιῶσιν οὐδὲ νήθουσιν:

29 λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδὲ Σολομὼν ἐν πάσῃ τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ περιεβάλετο ὡς ἓν τούτων.

And about clothes, why worry? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: they do not toil nor spin. (29) But I tell you that not Solomon in all his glory was dressed (as finely) as one of them.

So we’ve had birds and now lilies. I don’t know if there is some symbolism behind the choices of these examples; this may be a great example of how not having a background in the Bible is a real detriment. Aside from that, the meaning here is clear enough. And I’ve not often thought too highly of Burton Mack as a scholar, but these references to nature are the sort of thing that we can point to when we want to consider whether Jesus had something of the Cynic Sage in his approach. Such an appeal to nature was in keeping with that tradition. This is part of the reason they were ‘kyniko’; which literally means canine. 

28 Et de vestimento quid solliciti estis? Considerate lilia agri quomodo crescunt: non laborant neque nent.

29 Dico autem vobis quoniam nec Salomon in omni gloria sua coopertus est sicut unum ex istis.

30 εἰ δὲ τὸν χόρτον τοῦ ἀγροῦ σήμερον ὄντα καὶ αὔριον εἰς κλίβανον βαλλόμενον ὁ θεὸς οὕτως ἀμφιέννυσιν, οὐ πολλῷ μᾶλλον ὑμᾶς, ὀλιγόπιστοι;

 If the grass of the field being today and tomorrow is being thrown in the fire God in this way dresses, not in more so you, little faith ones?

This time, I’m going to let that stand. I have give a very literal translation. I think the intent is more or less clear enough, but I’m going to leave it as is because this is a great example of a passage that needs a lot of massaging to get it into workable English.

This attitude of “God will provide” is the sort of thing that is consistent with an attitude that holy people begging is acceptable behaviour. And you know, it wasn’t just the Buddha who did this; the Cynics also took this kind of attitude, and they also engaged in begging for subsistence. So Burton Mack is perhaps not wholly ridiculous about the possible influence of the Cynics on Jesus.

30 Si autem fenum agri, quod hodie est et cras in clibanum mittitur, Deus sic vestit, quanto magis vos, modicae fidei?

31 μὴ οὖν μεριμνήσητε λέγοντες, Τί φάγωμεν; ἤ, Τί πίωμεν; ἤ, Τί περιβαλώμεθα;

32 πάντα γὰρ ταῦτα τὰ ἔθνη ἐπιζητοῦσιν: οἶδεν γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος ὅτι χρῄζετε τούτων ἁπάντων.

So do not worry, saying “what shall we eat? What shall we drink? Or, “how shall we be dressed? (32) For all the pagans seek these things. For your father in the heavens knows that you need all of these things.

This reflects back to the idea of God’s omniscience. But something else just occurred to me. We are seeing here a corner being turned on the attitude of, or towards, God. The gods of the Greeks were often petty, jealous, and spiteful. They required propitiation if one wished to avoid being blasted. And this could probably be said about a lot of the gods of the ancient world. Now, the Greeks may not have quite been all that fearful any longer, but the point remains. And let’s face it: the God of the OT wasn’t exactly all sweetness and light. He did a lot of smiting of evildoers, whatever their race, creed, or national origin.

“God will provide”. I said that so easily, with scarcely a second thought, because it’s an expression to which I am accustomed. I am accustomed to the thought behind it. But this wasn’t exactly the prevailing attitude in the ancient world. To receive, one first had to give. “Do ut des” is the Latin phrase: “I give so that you give”. Here, we’ve got a different attitude. What has happened is that the idea of God the Father has started to sink in; more, he’s not just the Father, but he’s a loving Father. One who will provide. Matthew is not even really putting any preconditions on this. He’s expecting receiving without admonishing the giving that, according to most ancient thinkers, must precede the receiving. So a change of perception does seem to be occurring, if it hasn’t occurred.

Here I go again. Why did Matthew write a gospel, when Mark had already done so? In all the discussion of Q and sources and that sort of stuff, no one much stops to ask what it is that motivates someone to write a gospel. Why did the evangelists write a gospel? Why does anyone write anything? Because they believe they have something important, or novel to say. Why did Matthew write a gospel? Because he had stuff to add to Mark. Why did Luke and John write gospels? Because they felt they had things to add that were not covered by their predecessors. Matthew, I think, has a novel conception of God. That is part of what the new stuff he has to say.

So as not to be accused of ducking the issue, let’s talk about what the pagans do. At first glance, this would seem to undercut my theory that Matthew was a former pagan writing for former pagans. But to say that this does undercut my contention, we have to come to some sort of definition of what Matthew means by “the peoples”. Remember, this has traditionally been translated as “Gentiles”, which correlates more or less to the Greek “barbaroi” in the sense that they both set up an us/them dichotomy. There were Greek-speakers, and there were non-Greek speakers. There were Jews, and there were non-Jews. The problem with this is that this sort of dichotomy is not necessarily present in the Greek as it was written. This is a meaning that was loaded into the word later. For example, the Latin “gentes” is a neutral term, not much different from the English “peoples”. Sure, anytime you talk about “peoples” there is the potential sense of meaning other peoples, with our own in-group excluded, of course. But that is a contextual thing, something added on to the word, rather than something definitely within the word itself. And really, at root, the Greek means something like “a number of people living together, company, body of men, a band of comrades…(copied & pasted directly from the Liddell & Scott unabridged).

So there is no intrinsic sense of “otherness”. As such, I don’t know if we’re justified in rendering this as “Gentiles” at all. I did so for a very long time, but then I stopped to think about it. Once again, we see how the stuff “everyone knows” can completely distort our ability to see the meaning that is actually in the Greek.

33 ζητεῖτε δὲ πρῶτον τὴν βασιλείαν [τοῦ θεοῦ] καὶ τὴν δικαιοσύνην αὐτοῦ, καὶ ταῦτα πάντα προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν.

34 μὴ οὖν μεριμνήσητε εἰς τὴν αὔριον, ἡ γὰρ αὔριον μεριμνήσει ἑαυτῆς: ἀρκετὸν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἡ κακία αὐτῆς.

Seek therefore the kingdom [of heaven–not present in all mss.] and it’s justification, and all will be provided for you. (34) So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow may worry about itself. On each day is enough of it’s own bad things.  

31 Nolite ergo solliciti esse dicentes: “Quid manducabimus?”, aut: “Quid bibemus?”, aut: “Quo operiemur?”.

32 Haec enim omnia gentes inquirunt; scit enim Pater vester caelestis quia his omnibus indigetis.

33 Quaerite autem primum regnum Dei et iustitiam eius, et haec omnia adicientur vobis.

34 Nolite ergo esse solliciti in crastinum; crastinus enim dies sollicitus erit sibi ipse. Sufficit diei malitia sua.

 So instead of worrying about trivialities like food and clothing, seek the kingdom. I’m pretty certain that I’ve never explained that words in square brackets are words that are not found in all manuscript traditions. The question is whether Matthew wrote “the kingdom”, in which case “of the heavens” was added later, or if Matthew wrote “the kingdom of the heavens” and the last three words were dropped accidentally by some copyist along the way. Given that most of the times Matthew uses the word “kingdom”, he appends “of the heavens”, so I’m going to go with the latter scenario.

The next point of interest is the word that gets translated as “righteousness”. This word did not appear in Mark at all. It occurs seven times in Matthew, once in Luke, four times in Acts, and twice in John. It occurs more than all those combined–by about a factor of two–in Romans. This is Paul’s word. We saw it in 1 Corinthians and in Galatians. Now, Romans is the magnum opus of Paul, setting the framework for what became the doctrine of Predestination. Made especially famous by none other than Calvin, whom we discussed recently. What seems to have happened is that this idea that was so prominent in Paul sort of went underground. It never disappeared, but it never reached a central point in the theology of the evangelists. Why? There is probably no answer to that, but it’s important to ask the question. For Paul, justification came through sola fides, faith alone, faith in the Christ. What seems to have happened is that this message became de-emphasized as time passed. It fit with Paul’s emphasis on the Christ, but it didn’t work as well with the evangelists’ message about the living Jesus. Which is interesting, since Matthew here is telling us to have the faith that God will provide, but that’s not the same direction for one’s faith that Paul was preaching. Since we haven’t read Romans, it’s hard to get the full impact of that epistle, which is the summary, the climax, the apex of Paul’s theology. 

Just a word or two about the last verse: Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow can care for itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own. That borders on the “what, me worry?” philosophy of Alfred E. Neuman (he of Mad Magazine fame). Can you think of anything that Paul is less likely to say?


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on January 17, 2015, in gospel commentary, gospels, Historical Jesus, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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