24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Do not be anxious
25 “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 life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?
28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
Priority: the Kingdom
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” — These words sum up the teaching of this Gospel passage (Mt. 6: 24–34) — a person cannot give total allegiance to two opposite “masters” which will be God and wealth.
The Greek word for “serve” may be translated also as “be a slave to”, that is give oneself entirely to another without any reservations or claims to rights. The meaning is that a disciple cannot have divided loyalty.
“Masters” may be translated as ‘persons who have absolute authority’. The translation can then be rendered as “No one can be a slave to two persons who have absolute, contradictory authority’.
“for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” — As total allegiance is possible to only one of two “masters”, one will be hated and despised, the other loved and respected.
“You cannot serve God and mammon” — Total allegiance cannot be given to God and mammon, a word which means ‘money, material wealth, possessions or what controls our lives such as our appetites and desires’. These material things are the very opposite to God and are incompatible when the demand is for exclusive loyalty. (Mt. 19: 21–24). Material wealth and possessions are in themselves a false god when they are served by people who are enslaved to them.
What this verse is teaching is that a person must love and serve God exclusively with a full heart and mind; there can be no divided allegiance. St. Paul teaches that “money is the root of all evil” (I Tm. 6: 10)
This is one of the temptations Jesus underwent in Matthew 4: 8–10: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me’. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan for it is written, You shall worship the Lord you God, and him only shall you serve’”.
In the Lord’s Prayer, which he taught in this chapter 6 (Mt. 6: 9–13), his fourth petition is “Give us this day our daily bread” so that we will not be “anxious” about material matters but trust wholeheartedly in God our Father. Indeed, we can regard this present passage as a commentary on this petition.
“Therefore I tell you” — “Therefore” shows that there is a direct connection between the previous verse which states that a person cannot be the slave of both “God and mammon” and what is to be said now concerning whole–hearted trust in God.
“I tell you” is added as Jesus wishes to show that he is emphasising the “therefore”, the connection.
“Do not be anxious” here forms an inclusion with verse 34 at the conclusion of the passage to show that the text between the two parts of the inclusion explains it.
“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 life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” — The word “anxious” occurs five times in this passage. As used in this context it means that one is not to be worried to the extent of having a divided heart and mind that will give the preference to “mammon”, wealth and possessions. There is more to be added in the following verses to explain the argument.
“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” — What Jesus is recommending is trust in his heavenly Father. He looks after the birds of the air. People are of much more value than birds. No one can add eighteen or twenty inches, that is a “cubit”, to his/her span of life through anxiety. The “span of life” can refer to length of age or height. Anxiety will not help but trust in the heavenly Father will.
“And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” — The second example concerns clothing. Again the example is taken from nature, the lilies of the field which are more beautiful naturally than Solomon, one of the richest men in the Bible.
“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?” — The point is emphasised that God cares more for his disciples than for nature. If they believe that he looks after nature as he has shown in the example provided, then why can they not trust him?
Jesus accuses the disciples of being “men of little faith” when, knowing that they can trust him, they display “anxiety”. This affectionate term, “men of little faith”, is used by Jesus on four other occasions (Mt. 8: 26; 14: 31; 16: 8; 17: 20).
“Therefore do not be anxious saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” — The problem for the pagans, the Gentiles, is that they have no goal other than material possessions and wealth and they do not believe in God the Father to put their trust in him. They spend their time in accumulating things they need as well, even if they do not need them.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” — Jesus instructs people to “seek first his kingdom” his personal reign. He does not instruct to create or establish the kingdom. He has already been taken care of that. People are to find what he has prepared for them. This requires not a casual glance but a strenuous effort that presupposes effort on the disciple’s part.
Note the word “first”. Jesus has set his priority for us — “his kingdom”, the kingdom of heaven, the reign of God the Father. This is already established.
“and his righteousness” — God’s righteousness has two aspects — by his death he has liberated us from sin; by his resurrection he has given us new life. We now are the children of God and the brethren of Jesus, the Son of God. We are meant to live this life of sanctification.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” — What Jesus is strongly emphasising here is that people do not accumulate things without reason, merely for the sake of having, but that they live a simple life full of trust in God the Father who takes loving care of them.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) can be a wonderful commentary on a Gospel passage. A major theme in today’s passage is that we should trust in God the Father our Provider. CCC, 322 expresses this as follows: “Christ invites us to filial trust in the providence of our heavenly Father (cf. Mt 6:26–34), and St. Peter the apostle repeats: “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (I Pt 5:7; cf. Ps 55:23).”
You will note how Peter links his comment with the word that occurs five times in the passage: “anxiety” and the following four words which also occur: filial– trust — providence — heavenly Father.
God the Father acts as our father by displaying his power in providing for our needs: CCC, 270 tells us: “God is the Father Almighty, whose fatherhood and power shed light on one another: God reveals his fatherly omnipotence by the way he takes care of our needs; by the filial adoption that he gives us (“I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty”): finally by his infinite mercy, for he displays his power at its height by freely forgiving sins.”
As God displays his providential care for us in all things, Jesus reminds us that we have to reciprocate by abandoning ourselves to his love, displayed in everything he does for us, in all our smallest needs and anxieties. As the Catechism states, CCC 305, “Jesus asks for childlike abandonment to the providence of our heavenly Father who takes care of his children’s smallest needs: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?”… Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”
Trust is well defined in the words above, “abandonment to the providence of our heavenly Father who takes care of his children’s smallest needs”.
“Mammon”, money, wealth, possessions have been singled out in this passage (Mt. 6: 24-34) as being incompatible with God when it comes to allegiance and obedience. You cannot serve both God and Mammon. Some random remarks will reflect on this. In our society little, if anything else, gives status like money. The rich are highly respected, shown honours and priorities, assumed to have power, consulted on various topics, many of which are unrelated to money, given powers and authority simply because they possess wealth. How their possessions were acquired is not brought into the process of passing judgement on their abilities. The Catechism comments: CCC, 2424 says “A theory that makes profit the exclusive norm and ultimate end of economic activity is morally unacceptable. The disordered desire for money cannot but produce perverse effects. It is one of the causes of the many conflicts which disturb the social order.” This is elucidated in CCC, 2547: “The Lord grieves over the rich, because they find their consolation in the abundance of goods. “Let the proud seek and love earthly kingdoms, but blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” Abandonment to the providence of the Father in heaven frees us from anxiety about tomorrow. Trust in God is a preparation for the blessedness of the poor. They shall see God.”
Please note that the passage does not condemn wealth or working for a living or a future for yourselves or your children.
The main concern is who or what is the priority — God or mammon. Jesus declares that this is the disciples’ trust in God our Father who has to be the priority. He backs up this teaching by parables. God is the creator of all things and all possessions. He gives them as gifts to people who are to use them for God. He is the master who divides his goods among people before departing on a journey and who expects them to be fruitful and increase the value. He is the Master (same word used in this passage), who punishes his servants on his return because they did not work with the gifts he gave and they did nothing.