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The word this week

The words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount both inspire and challenge

Eighth Sunday of the Year, Isaiah 49:14-15; 1 Corinthians 4: 1-5; Matthew 6: 24-34

By on Thursday, 27 February 2014

“No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.”

The words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount both inspire and challenge. The Beatitudes touch all that is best in our humanity with their call to become peacemakers, to love those who hunger and thirst for what is right, to mourn for a broken world, and, not least, to live with the trust of the poor in Spirit.

Such a life is only achieved through the choices that we make day by day. For this reason the Sermon on the Mount concludes the words of Jesus concerning the two masters. We cannot be the slave of two masters.

In our imagined independence we are reluctant to see ourselves as enslaved to anything. The truth about ourselves, if we are willing to submit humbly to the words of Jesus, is frequently different. The habit of guarding our own convenience and well-being can become more than mere habit; it can become an enslavement that blinds us to every other consideration. The consumer society seeks to make us the slaves of a desire to own and possess, to measure ourselves by what we have. When Jesus challenged his disciples with the statement that they could not be the slaves of God and money, he was challenging us to question everything in our lives that has the power to exclude not only God, but everything that gives true value to our lives.

Jesus did not exclude the many legitimate needs that we have in life. He agreed that all need food, clothing and shelter, but insisted that our greatest need is for the love of the Father.

“Do not say ‘What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?’ It is the pagans who set their hearts on these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your heart on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well.”

The many choices that we make in life are formed by our most fundamental choice, determining where our hearts lie. Only in prayer, and in the presence of God, do we truly discern where our hearts lie. Our greatest need is to belong, to love and to be loved. This can never be satisfied by what we have and possess. It finds its rest in the Father who has created him for himself, who knows our every need, and gives us our place in his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus invites us to recognise this truth in ourselves, and, having recognised our need, to entrust ourselves to the Father. Having committed our lives to the Father, the many other needs that create anxiety and unrest to our lives will assume their proper place.

The prophet Isaiah, speaking to a people overwhelmed with anxiety and need, spoke directly to the heart of a people. “Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you.”

The imagery touches on our greatest fear, the fear of abandonment, and assures us of the Father’s continuing love. In the Sermon on the Mount, and in the Lord’s invitation to rest in him, the words of Isaiah are fulfilled.