Learning God – A study for Lent 2022
If we are to learn God, then we need to be as little Children and to allow God to fill our conscious imagination, and in childlike trust follow the Way of Jesus
Week 5: Matthew 6
The rest of the Sermon on the Mount can be expressed in Chapter 6 and 7, as distinct sections of Jesus teaching but each fleshing out as a whole a significant aspect of the journey so far. Therefore, before setting out on the penultimate part of our study, it might be worthwhile refreshing out memories about one or two aspects of what we have explored so far.
Firstly we recall that the wilderness brings us in a sense to a childlike state, that of utter dependence upon God. We sometime speak of such occasions as ‘coming to the end of ourselves’ (We explored this in greater detail in last years lent studies) What does such a phrase suggest to you? Is ‘coming to the end of ourself’ something we seek, or flee? In what ways does the World suggest to us that this is a state best left, until we have no choice in the matter? (Bear this in mind especially as we read Chapter 6)
Second, the Beatitudes describe such dependence – each of the ‘blessings’ is the blessedness of incompletion. If we believe ‘we have it within ourselves’ to live the Life of God, then of course we confuse ourselves for God. One of the foundational things we must learn is that we are not God. (Or perhaps in the light of Genesis 3, we need to unlearn our propensity to ‘play God’, in the negative sense, rather than the more positive light in which we imagined it in our second session).
Finally, at the end of Chapter five, we saw as it were ‘the end of all our journeying’. Remember that it is this ‘Telos’ – that is ‘Goal’, ‘End’, ‘Wholeness’ – which must inform our reading. If the journey is ‘up’ a mountain, then we need to keep the ‘ascent’ mindset before us, or as I once did on a misty day on a Scottish hill, we might spend our days going round and round the mountain in circles.
As we begin to explore Chapter 6, take time to read it through in its entirety, then read it again, having the ‘Telos’ of Chapter 6 in view throughout.
What appears to be the thread linking Jesus’ teaching in this chapter? (For once, the chapter divisions aren’t entirely arbitrary or unhelpful) What is the ‘Goal’?
We begin with Jesus’ teaching on what have become the three classic Lent disciplines; Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.
What common theme links Jesus teaching on each of these? In what way might this appear to conflict with Jesus teaching in Chapter 5 concerning Salt and Light? In what way does Jesus prior teaching harmonise with his teaching here?
Last year we explored the notion of ‘The Kingdom of God’. Do you recall anything from that teaching which might help explain what Jesus is pointing us towards in these verses? What might Jesus mean by ‘the inner room’? Or, ‘Your Father who sees in secret’?
Notice how often the word ‘Heaven’ comes up in the Sermon. Matthew’s gospel accounts for nearly half of the occurrences of the word in the Gospels. In the Sermon on the Mount it occurs more than in the entirety of John’s Gospel! This is a ‘heavenly minded’ Gospel and Sermon. What do we mean when we say ‘heaven’? Obviously, given the arena within which we are commanded to store up riches, it might help to consider what Jesus means . . .?
How might the teaching of Chapter 5 and its ‘Telos’ help us to understand this?
Jesus three times speaks of those who have already received their reward. Look back to Chapter 5: 43-8. It is here that Jesus first mentions ‘reward’. In what way is the reward of the Father unlike that received by those who pray ‘to be seen’? It might help again to consider the character of the ‘Blessed’.
Moving on to vs 19-21, how does the nature of reward accord with that of ‘treasure’, on earth or in heaven? What words might describe the two natures of these rewards?
Given all we have so far considered, what does this suggest about vs 22-3? (Remember the ‘headings’ put into the text were only included in the C17! Jesus doesn’t speak them ) The word ‘healthy’ carries with it the notion of ‘generous’ (perhaps ‘merciful’ 5:7) What might be the opposite of a ‘generous’ eye? How does this resonate with what we have so far read? How does it lead on naturally to vs 24? (You might also like to consider the parable of the rich fool, and how the man was not generous towards God)
So we hasten towards the end of the chapter with Jesus ‘other worldly’ teaching about ‘worry’. This begins ‘do not worry about your life’ What is ‘your life’? This teaching remember is given to his disciples, in the hearing of the crowds. How might the circumstances of the disciples differ from ours? What worries might we substitute in our condition of life?
Bearing in mind that we are commanded to pray for ‘daily bread’, how might this illuminate the final verse of the chapter? This verse is commented upon by Wendell Berry in his essay about ‘The Future’ in a dialogue with a scientific friend. Berry dismisses ‘the future’ as a helpful notion. Certainly the idea of ‘planning for the future’ is one which is only meaningful to those who have a sense of the certainty and solidity of existence. It can cause much anguish and anger with God when our ‘plans for the future’ are thrown into chaos . . .
What does this bring up for you?
Our final Study – when ‘the ‘future’ breaks in . . .