The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (6:22-33)
How blessed we are to have the privilege and joy of hearing the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ each and every week, or if we choose, each and every day of our lives. Is anything more beautiful, more meaningful or more powerful than the words of Our Lord?
I feel that each week the Church gives us a new angle, a new insight into the mind of God. Each thought from the mind of God guides us, heals us and has the power to give us renewed purpose and focus in our lives. In fact, today’s gospel reading really does focus on our focus. Our Lord says “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Often we hear or listen to these words and we think very straightforwardly that this is about what we look at with our physical eyes. Now there is certainly some truth to this, no doubt. But the Lord goes further and it helps to clarify the teaching for us. He says “No one can serve two master; for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
Our Lord tells us that the eye is the lamp of the body, but as we read we understand that this isn’t all about what we look at with our physical eyes. Put another way, if a man is blind, is his body full of light or darkness? The answer is “it depends on his heart.” Our Lord chooses the eyes as a symbol of our focus in life. What do we desire? What do we live for? Where is our heart? To what do we dedicate our energy, our minds, our hearts and our lives? This, and this alone determines whether or not your body is full of darkness or light.
“You cannot serve God and mammon.” This is the very next word from our Lord after He reminds the people that they cannot serve two master. Why does He say this? Because He knows us well. Our Lord Jesus Christ knows that His people will worry about the details of life. He knows that they will worry about how they will survive, how they will live, how they will eat. The Lord knows that our fear and our desire to survive can leave us spiritually compromised. Instead of focusing on the one needful thing, on the things of God. We slowly and gradually drift in our focus and aim in life. What is mammon? Mammon is often understood to mean “money” but in fact many of the Church fathers had a more thorough understanding. St. John Chrysostom saw mammon as a demon.
When we think of mammon in this way then it gives a new meaning to where we focus our lives. Where we focus and what we prioritize are the most important signs of who or what we really serve. So who do we serve with our time, our focus and our energies? Where do we direct our talents and the resources that we gain through the use of our God given talents? To answer these questions is to know whether we are full of light or darkness.
Our Lord knows His people, and as a word of encouragement He tries to comfort us. He says “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink; nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not the soul more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
Anxiety steals our joy. Our fear for all of the “what ifs” of life actually works to destroy our relationship with God. How does it do that? It causes us to doubt God and it focuses our energies on false gods, and temporary solutions. If a man thinks that his biggest problem in life is poverty, will he not focus on working to make as much money as possible? Will he not pour himself into the thing that he believes is the solution to all of his problems?
The gospel challenges us. It never stops challenging us! When you find that the gospel no longer challenges you, that means you aren’t paying attention to it. The gospel challenges us today and reminds us that our biggest problems are not lack of food, lack of money, lack of clothing, lack of beauty, lack of happiness or even a lack of justice. Our problem is the lack of righteousness and holiness. This is man’s only real problem. This is your only real problem. St. Andrew of Crete in his canon writes “I have been anxiously concerned only about outward adornment, and have neglected the inner temple made in the image of God.”
The other things we lack might be important in our short term understanding, but only one problem has lasting effect and significance. The problem is our constant search for comfort, belonging, identity and survival apart from God our creator. And according to the Lord, when we focus our sight on these things, we in fact begin to serve another master apart from Christ! How sad that is for Christians, for children of our heavenly Father!
Our Lord says “Don’t be anxious!” Many times within the Scriptures we read the phrase “fear not!” Fear is a strong negative emotion and driver in the spiritual life. It changes us and deeply affects us. In fact we are reminded that only fear of God is really appropriate. This healthy fear can be the seed to our repentance and a renewed life where we seek God, His kingdom and His righteousness before all else. God loves you, each of you, more than you can possibly fathom. He will not abandon you or leave you poor. He wants to give you all of His riches and His wealth. He wants to clothe you with the beautiful garment of a clean soul. He wants to welcome you into His heavenly mansion so that you are protected from the elements. He wants to feed you with His own flesh and blood. Everything that we think we need to struggle and worry about has already been arranged for us. Trust Him and direct your lives to serve Him alone. Focus on Him because He is already focusing on you.
Finally I want to leave you with this wonderful quote from St. Isaac the Syrian. He writes, “While we are living improperly, we fear all kinds of things. When we recognize God, there occurs a fear of His judgment. But when we start to love God, all fears vanish.” May all of our fears also vanish as we run to Christ and focus all of our efforts on Him for He alone is worthy of our focus and worship.