Today’s reading from the Hebrew Scripture returns to that section of Isaiah in which the prophet conveys the message of restitution. God relates images of God’s exiled people gathered from all points of the compass.
On the long journey they will not lack for food and water. And as they travel, the earth and the cosmos rejoice at their return.
To those who assert that God has forgotten Zion, God’s answer is a wonderful analogy of God as a woman who is breast feeding or pregnant, having no regard to those she nurtures with her body and saying that even if a mother forgets, God will not forget.
See, God says through the prophet, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands. This called to mind three images. The first was the habit that the Vietnamese officers had of writing information on the palms of their hands—map coordinates, radio frequencies and the like—and I remembered how I too over the years have written on the palms of my hands information I needed right then when I had no paper.
The second image that struck me was of the use of henna to dye the hands of brides and other women both for important events like marriage or just as a fashion statement. These as well are marks on the palms.
But then I thought of the nail marks in the palms of Jesus as he is depicted in religious art. As he died for all humanity to redeem us and make possible our reconciliation with God, it seemed to me that each mark represents some portion of humanity redeemed for all time.
Perhaps when Jesus examines the scars he thinks of us, quite possibly more than we allow ourselves to think of God. So when you see the marks of the nails whether in the lower forearm or the palms—they are a sign that God has not forgotten humanity. God has not forsaken us.
In his first surviving letter to the Corinthian Christians, Paul speaks to them as immature in the faith, like infants needing the milk of belief before stronger stuff. He chides them about the factionalism that he has learned about based on which missionary brought them to belief.
He says that they should think of himself and Apollos the other missionary to the Corinthians as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. He lays out the case that as a servant and steward he is only required to answer to the Lord when he comes.
Perhaps we Christians would be much better off if we as the Church acted more like servants and stewards to whom Jesus looks to do the works of mercy and make the efforts to tell others about the benefits of the faithful life.
Yet within and between denominations there is so much time and effort spent on squabbling about who has the truth or the real understanding of scripture. What if we directed our efforts more to God’s agenda as revealed by our Lord Jesus?
That concern for God’s agenda rather than our own navel-gazing is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel. In this section Jesus takes on fixations about money and creature comforts.
In this series of teachings, Jesus has warned his audience about religious observances for public consumption saying that they receive their reward here. He explains that heaping empty phrases in prayer is a waste, for God knows what we need.
Jesus says get to the point in simple expressive terms—the result is the Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer. He then goes on to emphasize again that people need to focus on what God thinks is important like forgiveness and straight-forward prayer.
He uses the metaphor of the eye—it is the lamp of the body showing forth the inner light or it is indicative of the darkness within.
Jesus says no one can be a slave to two masters—either the slave loves one and hates the other or is loyal to one and despises the other. His thesis is that one cannot serve God and wealth. Now the Greek word is mammon, and it is interesting that the word comes to the Greek from the Aramaic—the root meaning that in which one trusts according to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Just think about that for a moment. Mammon has the sense of that in which one trusts.
In Jewish writings it hints of dishonest gain and is often equated with unrighteousness. Jesus is the only one to use this word in the NT. It has the sense of earthly goods and Jesus is clear that one cannot give his heart to the pursuit of these materialistic aspects of life and expect to love God.
And Jesus wonders out loud what the concern is all about. After all the birds of the sky and the lilies of the field have food and clothing aplenty and God cares more for us than the birds and the flowers.
And I find myself wondering with progressively higher taxes and skyrocketing commodity prices, how relevant is Jesus’ view for us?
I think the key lies in how he ends this teaching: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Of course we should be concerned with necessities but we need to keep things in perspective and more importantly in balance.
God wants the best for us and the best is not a fixation on stuff but a fixation on life and love.
That fixation on life and love separates us from those who can only think of stuff and what the future holds.
Do we plan for the future; do we make allowances that will help us be financially okay? Yes, that is part of stewardship of what God makes available to us.
But danger lies when we forget about what really counts—family, other people, our relationship with God.
I’ve been looking at obituaries a lot lately. Not a single write-up speaks about how the deceased made a whole mess of money or had a fabulous wardrobe. The obituaries talk about their community service and their relationship to family, friends, and the place where they lived.
What are the important things you would like people to say about you when you’ve gone to be with Jesus? Think about that this week.