Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 6:24-34
Posted by Dim Bulb on February 26, 2014
24 No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
This is a further reason for not laying up for ourselves treasures on earth. The preceding reasons or arguments were grounded on the fleeting nature and instability of such treasures (19); on the total absorption of our affections by them (21); on their destroying the merits of our actions and withdrawing us from God (22, 23). Here, it is founded on the grievous slavery it entails. We become the slaves of this earthly treasure, on which our hearts are set. We cannot serve it and God at the same time.
“No man can serve two masters.” This is an adage generally received, and true in almost all cases; and from the reasoning which follows, “for, he will either hate the one,” &c., it is clear that our Redeemer refers to the service dictated by love and affection (and it is against the absorbing love of riches He here wishes to caution His followers). The adage, generally true in all cases of double service, where different orders are given, is particularly true where the two masters give opposite orders. There is an incompatibility in a servant, from the very nature of his position, having his love and faithful service distracted between both. If there be question of masters who, though different or distinct, are subordinate, one to the other, they may be regarded as one. Thus, one servant can serve the several members of a household, as subordinate, all to the head. By “master,” is understood everything, to which we are too much addicted, as if enslaved.
“For, either he will hate the one and love the other.” “One,” is by a well-known Hebrew idiom, put for “first;” “the other,” for “second.” The words may be thus illustrated: Suppose the masters to be Peter and Paul. He will either hate the first (that is, Peter), and love the second (Paul); or he will hold to the first (Peter), and serve him, and despise the other (Paul). The opposition in the disjunctive clauses is not between the persons, but between the love and the hatred in one and the same person. “Hating” and “loving” may be understood in a lesser or greater degree of intensity.
The Greek word for “sustain” (ανθεξεται) denotes the strongest attachment St. Augustine understands “sustains,” or, “hold to,” of riches or “mammon,” and translates it, patietar, he will endure or tolerate, as if to say, if he devote himself to the service of this tyrant, mammon, to the rejection and contempt of God, he can only endure or tolerate him, but love him he cannot. The former interpretation is more in accordance with the received meaning of the Greek word, ανθεξεται.
“You cannot serve God and mammon.” This is the application of the general adage quoted in the foregoing. “Mammon” is a Syriac word, signifying riches. In the Chaldaic Targum of Onkelos, it is used for money (Exod. 21:21); and of Jonathan (Jud. 18:30). St. Augustine tells us that in the Punic language, it means gain (De Ser. Dom. Lib. ii.) It is her personified; for, indeed, the avaricious man makes a god of his riches, just as some make “a god of their belly” (Phil. 3:19). Hence, St. Paul terms riches “the serving of idols” (Eph. 5:5). Our Redeemer does not say, “you CANNOT be rich and serve God;” because, a man may be rich, like the patriarchs of old, and many just men, without being inordinately attached to riches; without “serving” them as the treasures of their hearts. God and riches are antithetical. It is the service of both that is incompatible. The love of riches is generally one of the greatest obstacles to the salvation of the world. The desire of riches, or their abuse, if possessed, is one of the means most successfully employed by the devil for the ruin of man. “It is easier for a camel,” &c. (See also St. Paul, 1 Tim. 6) On this account, it is, our Redeemer commands all those who range themselves under His standard, to despise the riches of this earth, after His own example; or, to use them, only as means towards possessing and enjoying the riches of heaven.
25 Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment?
Since, then, we cannot serve God and mammon at the same time, and cannot have our hearts attached to the things of earth, if we wish to serve God; we must, therefore, in order to serve God, whom alone we should serve, not merely be content with avoiding the unnecessary amassing of riches, but we must divert ourselves of all anxious, corroding solicitude for the very necessaries of life; all distrustful forecasting of future provision as regards these necessaries. Such solicitude generally binds the soul to earth, and belongs to the service of mammon. In this, our Lord obviates a tacit objection, or rather pretext, for concealing avarice, which men would put forward in justification of their constant striving for the things of earth, viz., the plea of securing the necessaries of life. Our Redeemer knew well how deeply rooted such a feeling of solicitude is in the human heart; hence, He not only draws an argument from the foregoing against indulging in such solicitude; but, in the following, He proceeds to show, from several arguments, the utter folly and inutility of the anxiety He condemns in reference to these very necessaries, either as regard soul or body; for of both, soul and body, human nature is composed. “Solicitous,” the Greek word, μεριμνατε, signifies distracting care, corroding anxiety. In one or two passages of the New Testament, μεριμνα denotes laudable anxiety (2 Cor. 11; Philip. 2:20), but it is generally used to denote distracting, distrustful care. (When laudable solicitude is in question, the Greek word used is, σπουδη.) In employing the former word, our Redeemer shows He does not censure a prudent, thoughtful diligence in regard to the necessaries of life, as is sanctioned by right reason, and the example of all the saints. It is only the man that sows that can expect to reap, and reap fruit of the same kind as the seed sown. The Scripture itself praises the diligence of the laborious ant (Prov. 6:6). St. Paul laboured with his hands to procure an independent sustenance (Acts 20.; 1 Thess. 2); and, writing to the Ephesians (c. 4) he commands the idle to labour so as to furnish necessaries to the needy. He tells the idle among the Thessalouians, “not to eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). What our Lord, then, censures and warns us against is that anxious, fretful, anticipating solicitude, which implies a distrust in God’s providence, and also fixes the heart on earth and withdraws it from God.
“The life,” (anima) is understood by some to mean, the soul of man. It is opposed to the “body,” not that the soul needs food; but, food is necessary to keep the soul, which, is the principle of life, in the body. Others understand it to mean, in accordance with the Hebrew usage, life (Job 2:6; St. Augustine, Lib. ii. de Serm. Domini, c. 22). To the words, “what you shall eat,” are added in the Greek and Syriac, “nor what you shall drink.” St. Jerome rejects them.
“Is not the life more than the food?” &c. Our Redeemer adduces several reasons to dissuade us from indulging in these distracting anxieties. The first is given here. He, who gave what is greater and more valuable, will not refuse what is less valuable, and is, moreover, necessary for the preservation of His own more precious gifts. The soul or life given by God is more valuable than the aliments necessary to sustain it; and the body more valuable than the necessary covering. We must, therefore, trust that He, who gave the former, will not fail to provide the latter.
26 Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?
A second reason to dissuade us from inordinate anxiety: If God takes such care of the birds of the air, “the (worthless) ravens” (Luke 12:24), as to provide them with food, without any solicitude on their part, how much greater care will He not take of men, for whose use and benefit the rest of creation was formed? (See also Psa. 9; Job 38:41)
“Of the air,” to show forth in a still clearer light, God’s providence, as the birds of the air are not fed by men, like domestic fowl. He instances “birds” beyond any others; because, they are the most insignificant of animals. They remind us of raising ourselves above the things of this earth. They also seem the most indifferent beings in creation, about providing themselves, save casually, with food.
“They neither sow,” &c. This by no means implies, that in contravention of the primeval decree, “in sudore vultus tui, &c.” (Gen. 3:19), we, like the birds of the air, should follow no industrial pursuit, nor labour for our support. It conveys merely this, that, since the Creator feeds these animals, who have no other occupation or direction, save the dictates of their animal instincts, we should be persuaded, that He who is not only our Creator, but our Father also, will not fail to provide the necessary means of subsistence for us. His children, while engaged in following His holy will and precepts. So that if our duties in life should engage us in occupations other than those necessary to provide sustenance, such as sowing and reaping, we need not fear that we shall be deprived of the necessary sustenance.
The force of the argument consists, not in the comparison of man, or his occupations, with the birds; but, in the difference of relations and dispositions of God in regard to both, indicated in the words, “your heavenly Father.” (Jansen. Gandav.) “Your Father.” He is only their Creator; but, He bears also the tender relation and natural solicitude of a parent for you. “Heavenly,” conveys that, while dwelling in the heavens, He does not disdain to regulate earthly and temporal concerns; since His providence extends to the very ravens; and surely He will do more for His children than for the worthless ravens of the air.
27 And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit?
“And which of you by taking thought?” &c. This is a third reason for laying aside all distracting solicitude, derived from its utter folly and inefficacy. The words of St. Luke (12:25, 26) would seem to point to this as an argument, a minore ad majus. According to some commentators (among them Barradius), our Redeemer institutes no comparison whatsoever. These understand the words to mean, “If by anxious thought, you cannot add a single cubit to your stature, a very inconsiderable thing;” if you cannot do the least thing by it, why, then, employ anxious thought about anything else in regard to which such disquieting solicitude can be of no avail, unless God’s providence interposes? “Why are you solicitous for the rest?” (Luke 12:20). According to these interpreters, there is no comparison whatsoever instituted. Others understand the words as expressing a comparison, as is implied in St. Luke, and interpret them thus, in allusion to the necessaries of life: “If you cannot, by your solicitude, add to your stature a single cubit, how much less can you procure the necessaries of life, which is but a conservation in existence, a continued series of acts of creation of the entire man, requiring, therefore, more power than if required to add a single cubit to your stature?” When, therefore, all your solicitude will prove of no avail to you to do a comparatively trifling thing, why, then, indulge in such vain feelings of solicitude, in reference to greater, viz., food and the preservation of life, and not rather commit yourself to His providence who, without any anxiety on your part, has preserved you to the present time, conferred on you your present stature, and will, no doubt, provide for your continuance in existence. Others, understanding the Greek word for “stature” to mean, age, and “cubit,” a period of time, interpret the passage thus: “If you cannot add the shortest time to your age, how much less can you prolong life during the entire term of your existence?”
“By thinking.” The Greek word implies, distracting care, which shows what kind of solicitude our Redeemer warns us against here.
28 And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin.
A fourth reason to dissuade us from solicitude. From food—the more necessary means of subsistence—He proceeds to treat of raiment, which is less necessary, and also serves for ornament. He now employs an illustration, borrowed from the flowers of the field, as He had already done with regard to the birds of the air, to dissuade us from distracting solicitude.
“The lilies of the field” which, growing wild, unlike the flowers of the garden, tended by man, owe nothing to human care or culture.
“How the grow?” Their growth and expansion in leaves and foliage is their clothing. “They labour not,” to obtain clothing, as do men, “nor spin,” the occupation of women.
29 But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.
“Solomon,” the most magnificent of monarchs, whose apparel was so costly, “in all his glory,” at the very height of all his glory and magnificence. Or, during the entire period of his glorious reign (St. Chrysostom).
“Was arrayed as one of these.” “What silken works, what royal purple, what woven picture, can be compared to flowers? What so blushing as the rose? What so white as the lily?” (St. Jerome.)
30 And if the grass of the field, which is to day, and to morrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith?
What He calls above, “the lilies of the field,” He now calls “grass of the field,” to show how God can and does invest the most worthless thing with exquisite beauty. “Which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast,” &c., a thing of short-lived, passing existence. “God doth so clothe,” as to exceed the glory of Solomon, with how much greater care will He not provide the necessary clothing for His own children, and invest them with beauty, who are to exist not for a day; but, destined to live for eternity with Himself, as heirs of His kingdom, and who, now, for want of due faith and confidence, distrust His paternal providence? “O ye, of little faith.”
The words, “labour not,” &c., are not opposed to our labouring and earning our bread with the sweat of our brow, as has been already explained (v. 26). They are only meant to convey, that God will not be wanting to us any more than He is to the very flowers of the field, even though our occupations in life may not directly tend to our providing bodily sustenance, such as, sowing, reaping, spinning, &c., as is the case with those engaged in preaching the Gospel, &c. This passage conveys a wholesome lesson, and a well-merited reproof to those who display an excessive desire for the vanities of dress.
31 Be not solicitous therefore, saying: What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed?
Having adduced proofs in the foregoing of the fatherly providence of God in our regard, and of the utter folly of anxious solicitude on our part, our Redeemer now concludes what He already proposed, and more clearly explains in what this solicitude consists, “What shall we eat?” &c. He shows that he has been censuring that timorous, anxious solicitude which betrays distrust in God’s providence.
32 For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.
Such solicitude is heathen and not Christian; and as our love of our fellow-creatures should differ from that exhibited by the Pagans (c. 5:47), so also should our confidence in God’s fatherly providence; and, as we must surpass the Scribes and Pharisees, if we wish to enter into the kingdom of heaven; so must we surpass the unbelieving Pagans who know not God. In this is conveyed a fifth reason for avoiding undue anxiety.
“For, your Father knoweth,” &c. In this is conveyed a sixth reason, and from it we clearly see the nature of the solicitude condemned by our Redeemer. It arose from a want of faith in God’s power, omniscience, and fatherly providence. “Your Father,” shows God’s benevolence towards us, His will to assist us. His power is implied and expressed in the words, “Heavenly Father,” and more clearly still in the Greek (ὁ ουρανιος), “He who dwells in the heavens.” His omniscience and knowledge of our wants is clearly expressed, “knoweth,” &c. Why not, then, cast all our cares on Him? “for, He hath care of us” (1 Peter 5:7). Where is the father with a full knowledge of the wants of his children, that will refuse, when in his power, to succour them? And if this be true of earthly fathers, how much more so must it not be of the best of Fathers who is in heaven? As God, He knows our necessities; as a Father, He wishes to relieve them; as Heavenly Lord of all things, He can do so.
33 Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.
After the negative precept prohibiting excessive anxiety in regard to the necessaries of life, our Redeemer now proposes a positive or affirmative precept, showing how we are to differ from the Pagans, and how we are to obtain through God’s paternal providence, the necessaries of life, without any excessive solicitude on our part.
“Seek.” He does not say, “be solicitous.” For, even in reference to our spiritual wants, we should not indulge in distracting solicitude, “nihil soliciti sitis,” &c. (St. Paul, Phil. 4)
“Therefore.” The Greek is (δε, but) as if, in opposition to the conduct and thoughts of the heathens, He said, the Pagans seek after temporal matters; “but,” as for you who have God for Father, “seek first,” &c.
“First,” i.e., chiefly, in preference to anything else; “first,” in order, not of time, but, of appreciation.
“The kingdom of God,” i.e., the attainment of heavenly bliss, compared with which everything else is mere dross. This is the first and chief object to be sought for as regards ourselves. But, in reference to God, and absolutely speaking, God’s glory is the first thing to be sought for. Hence, in these words, there is no opposition to the order of petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. “Hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come;” which is ranged in the second place. For, even while labouring and seeking to obtain heavenly bliss, we must “first,” and absolutely, seek God’s glory.
“And His justice.” The justice of God—in contradistinction to that of the Scribes and Pharisees—which is grace, sanctification, the observance of God’s law, which are the necessary means for obtaining God’s kingdom.
Others, by “the kingdom of God,” understand, His grace, by which He reigns in our hearts; and these understand the words, “and His justice,” to be explanatory of the word, “kingdom,” so as to mean, “seek God’s kingdom,” that is to say, His justice, grace, and sanctity.
“And all these things,” i.e., temporal blessings, the necessaries of life, &c., “shall be added unto you.” This does not mean, that we are never allowed to seek for temporal things as subservient to our eternal interests; since, we are commanded to pray for them. “Give us this day our daily bread,” &c. The words mean, that if we devote our chief care and solicitude to the concerns of salvation, and propose its attainment, as our absolute final end in all things, God will provide all other things for us, as far as they may answer these ends. The words show that temporal interests are mere accessories of the affairs of salvation; mere secondary appendages, subservient to them. In this promise, is always implied the condition, viz., “provided the granting of those temporal blessings be not an obstacle to our salvation.” Similar is the promise, with a like implied condition, “inquirentes Dominum non deficient omni bono,” “non est inopia timentibus cum,” and although in the case of many just men “seeking the kingdom of God,” the necessaries of life are withheld; still, in their case, the promise is verified, as He gives them blessings of a higher order, in which “all these things” are eminently contained. If God give not these things specifically, He gives them in gifts of far higher value. And He, who rewards every man’s work according to merit, may, for the fuller and more perfect remuneration of the just man, subject him to poverty and want in this life, as a temporal punishment of some fault; lest, the eternal reward be retarded, or diminished—and moreover, He means to give him an opportunity of increasing his merit by patience and conformity to His adorable will.
34 Be not therefore solicitous for to morrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.
“Solicitous.” The Greek word (μεριμνησητε) shows what the solicitude referred to is.
“Therefore,” shows this to be an inference from the foregoing. As the birds of the air are fed and their future provided for by God; as God will add the necessaries of life, if we seek the kingdom of heaven; we should, therefore, banish all distracting cares in regard to the future.
“To-morrow.” St. Augustine understands this word to mean, temporal things; as if to say, be not solicitous about temporal things. They shall be solicitous for themselves; they shall be at hand when wanted. It will be sufficient to take what necessity may require. St. Chrysostom understands it, of the superfluities of life. Be not concerned about whatever is above the necessary provision for each day’s subsistence. Superfluities will mind themselves, were you to amass ever so much of them, and enjoy them not; they will be always sure to find one who will use them. The labour and misery which you suffer for the necessaries of life are sufficient; do not, therefore, labour for superfluities, lest the labour be yours, and the fruition belong to others.
The most probable meaning of “to-morrow” is, the future time—the sense it bears (1 Kings 28:19)—“cras eris tu et filii tui,” &c.” (Josue 22:24); “cras dicent filii vestri,” &c. Put aside all anxious anticipations and distracting solicitude regarding the future. It is a proverb universally in use, “To-morrow will bring its own care” and so leave to to-morrow its own care. If you anticipate to-morrow’s care, you will only add to the care of to-day that of to-morrow, without lightening to-morrow’s, and your solicitude for to-day will still continue. You only accumulate cares, and submit to bear at once what God intended to be borne separately and in succession. By adding to-morrow’s care to that of to-day, you will only be accumulating cares, and aggravating those of to-day, without diminishing or lightening those of to-morrow.
“To-morrow will be solicitous for itself.” The Greek is, “It will be solicitous about the things of itself”—or, about the things that appertain to itself. Our Redeemer personifies to-morrow; and by this strong figure of speech, He means to convey that, independently of any action, or care, or provision, on our part, matter for solicitude will arise on each day, in a way peculiar to itself, whether we will it or no.
Our Redeemer does not, of course, prohibit here a prudent provision and preparation to meet future necessities. The necessary forecasting and provision for future days or years may be said to belong, not to to-morrow, but to to-day. He does not prevent necessary care and prudent forethought. The words, “to-morrow will be solicitous for itself” show, He does not mean to censure the solicitude and diligence necessarily accompanying human existence.
“Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.” “The evil,” i.e., the affliction, the care, solicitude, trouble, incident to it. Our Redeemer, by transferring to each day the trouble which men endure on it, conveys, that we do it a wrong when we charge or burden it with the trouble of the coming day. For each day its own trouble is enough. It is deserving of remark, that our Redeemer prohibits not labour, but solicitude. The former is enjoined on the entire human race, “in sudore vultus tui comedes panem tuum” (Gen. 3:19). The latter, in the sense already explained, is prohibited.