Third Sunday after Pentecost / Third Sunday of Matthew, June 25, 2017
Romans 5:1-10; Matthew 6:22-33
Very Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Matt. 6:33)
Jesus says these words right after telling His disciples not to worry about how their earthly needs will be met. And so we interpret these words to mean that God will take care of our earthly needs. And there’s nothing wrong with that interpretation. We should have a deep and abiding trust in God and love for Him, which, the more it is cultivated, will enable us not to spend our time worrying, even if our situation looks dire from an earthly point of view.
But if we leave this there, then we will be missing the much bigger point in this passage from Matthew 6. After all, is Jesus concerned only with our earthly, physical well-being?
God of course does care about our earthly well-being. However, that is not what He came here to take care of. A God Whom we imagine primarily as seeing to our earthly needs is a God Who is a kind of useful accessory to life. Some people actually do treat Him that way. They ask God to come around like a divine butler or personal shopper or consultant or helpful professional to assist in whatever they’ve got going on.
Or maybe God is there as the spiritual feature in a good life that is mainly concerned about a lot else. I’ve got everything in my life lined up—job, marriage, house, kids, hobbies, possessions, etc. Oh, and I’ve got some religion, too. Thanks, God!
But it turns out that that’s not why God showed up, either.
God showed up to bring us His Kingdom and His righteousness. And that’s what Jesus says here that we are to seek first.
The key to understanding this comes at the beginning of today’s Gospel, where the Lord Jesus 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 in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
So we’re talking about light and darkness here, and Jesus points to the eye as being the key image in this metaphor. “The eye is the lamp of the body.” We all can identify with that. When you can see well, your whole life is affected. What you see with your eye affects everything. If you can see well, you know where to go. You can see your path. You can avoid obstacles. You can avoid getting hurt. You have purpose. You have direction.
But if you can’t see, you have a problem. You are missing what there is to see. You can’t walk around well. You can’t see where you’re going. You can easily get hurt by bumping into things.
That’s why Jesus says, “If your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness.” The rest of your body will have a hard time doing what it needs to do if the eye isn’t working. And then He says, “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” What should be showing you the way is now obscuring the way from you.
What does this have to do with seeking the Lord’s Kingdom and His righteousness? Well, how can you see where to go if what should be lighting your way isn’t lighting your way? How do you plan to get to the Kingdom if you can’t see how to get there?
Right after Jesus uses the metaphor of the eye as the lamp of the body, He then says this: “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.” “Mammon” is money—material possessions.
This is why Jesus says, “Is not the soul more than food, and the body more than clothing?” If your biggest concern in life is food or clothing, or any other earthly material matter, then you have a problem. Isn’t your soul more than that? Isn’t even your body more than that?
So what does it mean to have your eye darkened? It means that you’re serving the wrong master. It means that you’re serving money and possessions. And if possessions are your master, then God is not your master, for no one can serve two masters. Your devotion goes only one way. You have to pick. Really. You have to pick. Pick one.
That’s why Jesus finishes up this passage with “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” Don’t seek your own kingdom and your own righteousness. Seek God’s. You have to pick which master you’re going to serve—either God’s kingdom and righteousness or your own. But you can pick only one.
So here’s why that matters.
It doesn’t matter just because we’re talking about eternal salvation here. It matters because we have to be oriented correctly for that salvation.
God’s kingdom is not just some ethereal afterlife where everything is beautiful, streets made of gold, etc. His kingdom is His rule, His influence, His dominion among us. His righteousness is His way of doing things rightly.
So when Jesus talks about seeking first after the kingdom of God and His righteousness, He is speaking of pursuing the presence of God within us and among us, of seeking to do things in the way that God does them and has designed for us.
The kingdom of God is not just a future hope but also a present reality. The King Himself has already come, born to kingship by virtue of being both God and man. And He has come to put His enemy death to death. And His rising from the dead inaugurated this new kingdom.
This is why, when the Apostles preached the Gospel, they did not preach that Jesus would help you with your life. They did not even preach that Jesus came to die for your sins. They preached that Christ is risen and that He was given all authority in heaven and earth.
It is critical that we see Christianity in exactly this way. It is not the story of how we are broken and Jesus came to help us. It is the story of how God came to earth to establish His kingdom, which is conducted according to His righteousness.
It is only in becoming part of that kingdom by entering into covenant with Him, by seeking to be present with Him, by seeking to alter our way of being in accordance with His way of being that we can receive the benefits of what He did on the cross.
If we seek first His kingdom and righteousness, then all these other things will be added to us. Of course He will take care of His children. Of course He will grant resurrection to the fallen. Of course He will forgive the sins of those who repent. But it’s not because He came here to “help” us, as though it’s about us and He’s just a supporting character in our stories.
This is His story. That’s why it’s about His kingdom and His righteousness.
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”
To our Lord Jesus Christ therefore be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.