Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 6:19-34

19 Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through, and steal.
20 But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal.
21 For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.
22 The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome.
23 But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be!
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.

Private life in the kingdom (Mt 6:19-34) Bleek, Neander, Weiss, contend that the following section is a mere interpolation in the sermon on the mount, being wholly foreign to its theme announced in Mt. 5:17–20. De Wette moreover asserts that the section is not connected with its context; but Weiss-denies this position, since at least the evangelist must have intended some kind of a connection. Schanz, etc. see in the present passage an addition to the preceding: alms-deeds, prayer, and fasting, performed in the right way, procure us heavenly treasures, by far preferable to earthly riches; but they do not yet necessarily exclude a striving after earthly possessions. Our Lord warns us against this striving in the following section. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Cajetan, Jansenius, Barradas, Lapide, Knabenbauer etc. connect the present section with the preceding in a more simple manner: in the preceding we have a warning against vainglory, in the present an exhortation against avarice. This connection is more natural and more in keeping with the text than that proposed by other writers who see in the preceding section the principal sources of meriting heavenly treasures, and in the present a monition to prefer heavenly to earthly riches. In any case, vv. 19–24 warn against avarice, vv. 25–34 against excessive care for earthly necessities.

Warning against avarice. Our Lord assigns the following reasons for avoiding avarice: α. Earthly riches are perishable: the moth consumes our costly garments, the rust eats our crops and things of a similar nature, the thieves steal our gold and silver; if then riches are desired, we must acquire those of heaven where there are no agents that can corrupt our possessions.

The second reason for guarding against avarice is the fact that our heart stays with our treasure; it will remain, therefore, on earth, fixed on worldly goods, if we have our treasure on earth.

The third reason against avarice is based on the extreme importance of having our heart wholly fixed on heavenly goods. Since all our members, being of themselves blind to the light, must be directed by the eye, their proper direction depends on the healthy state of the eye,—“single” and “evil” in the text mean, according to the Greek text, “well” and “ill” respectively. Now our heart and mind [Chrysostom], or our intention [Augustine, Bede, Rabanus, Paschasius; cf. Eph. 1:18], is for our moral life what the eye is for our body; if, then, our intention be blinded by passion, what light can there be in our other acts, which of themselves may be the blind result of our passions? Cf. Coleridge, iv. 87 f.

The fourth reason against avarice answers a difficulty that might occur to the reader or hearer: why can we not seek the riches of both heaven and earth? No one can serve two masters, our Lord answers; for even prescinding from the fact that one’s powers are wholly exhausted by one service, and that probably the two masters will exact from us services contrary to one another, our feelings cannot be loyal to two superiors. We naturally love the one and hate the other, and consequently adhere [the Greek text reads “adhere” instead of “sustain”] to the former and despise the latter [Schanz, etc.]; or, whether we serve through love or self-interest, we cannot feel in the same way towards both masters [Schegg]; or, again, we either love God and hate mammon, or practically despise God and bear with mammon [Augustine, etc.]; in any case, the service of God and mammon cannot be combined in the same person.

The word “mammon” has been variously derived by different writers: some refer it back to the verb טָמַן [to conceal] or its derivative noun מַטְמו̇ן [store-room], so that it conveys the idea of something concealed [Gen. 43:23; Prov. 2:4; Job 3:21; Gesen. Lap. Meyer, etc.]; others derive the word from] אָמֵן [to trust], appealing to Ps. 36:3 and Is. 33:6, where the lxx render אֶמוּכָה, derived from the same verb, by πλοῦτος and θησαυροοζ respectively [Schegg Wilke, Keim, W. Grimm, etc.]. Though philologically considered this latter derivation appears preferable [מָמו̇כָא contracted out of מָאמוֹבָא as מֵמרָא is the contracted form of מֵאמְרָא], still there are serious difficulties against such an etymology. The lxx. rendering of Ps. 36:3 must be understood figuratively; the rendering of Is. 33:6 belongs probably to another noun [הֹסֶן], not to אֱמוּכָה; finally, the present context does not represent mammon as something trustworthy, but on the contrary as something vain and unreliable. It must also be noted in connection with the passage that our Lord does not pronounce it incompatible with the service of God to possess riches, but to serve them; some men have attained an eminent sanctity by the proper use of their riches.

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?
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?
27 And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit?
28 And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin.
29 But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.
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?
31 Be not solicitous therefore, saying: What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed?
32 For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.
33 Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.
34 Be not therefore solicitous for to morrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.

Therefore I say to you.] b. Warning against excessive solicitude. Solicitude for food and clothing may appear excusable on account of the needs of our bodily life. But even here excess must be avoided; vv. 31, 32, 34 show that Jesus condemns not all care for these necessaries, but only excess of care. This warning is connected with the preceding, because excessive solicitude is part of the service of mammon. Jesus gives the following reasons for his warning: α. The first is an argument “a maiori ad minus”; since God has given us life and body, he will also give us what is less, food and raiment [cf. 1 Pet. 5:7].

In the second place, our Lord is concerned with food only, arguing, “a minori ad maius,” that we must not be over-anxious for it: if our Father nourishes the birds of the air, wholly careless though they be of their food, and wholly removed though they be from it, he will also care for our nourishment [cf. Lk. 12:24; Ps. 146:9].

The third argument of our Lord continues his instruction concerning the care for our daily food, showing that anxiety in this regard is perfectly useless. It proceeds somehow “a minori ad maius,” but the way in which it does has given rise to a number of opinions. [1] A first class of writers retain the rendering of the ancients, “add to his stature one cubit.” Hence they interpret: how can you expect to preserve your whole body by your care, if you cannot add even one cubit to it [op. imp.; cf. Mald. Lk. 12:26]? or, since you cannot add one cubit to your body, you evidently are not master of it; or again, if with all your care you cannot add one cubit to your body without God’s special providence, why should you worry about what does not belong to you [Chrysostom]? [2] Another class of writers understand the words as meaning, “add one span to his lifetime.” It is true that the patristic interpreters did not adopt this opinion; but the Greek noun means both stature and lifetime, and Cajetan, Lapide, Sylveira, Barradas, explain the passage already as signifying somehow the prolongation of one’s life. The recent commentators [Arnoldi, Schegg, Reischl, Schanz, Fillion, Keil, etc.] have rendered this explanation clearer by pointing to the figurative meaning of time, in which longitudinal measures of space are used in almost all languages [cf. Lat. French, Germ. Engl.]; in scriptural language this may be the more readily assumed, because Ps. 39:6 [Heb.] compares our lifetime to a palm [a measure of three inches]. Besides, a cubit is something inconsiderable in comparison with the length of our lifetime; on the other hand, it would be something really wonderful, were we able to increase our stature by one cubit through our solicitude.

In the fourth place, our Lord gives an argument directed against solicitude regarding our clothing; it proceeds again “a minori ad maius.” The beauty and strength of the argument are enhanced by reference to the charming Eastern lilies and to the splendor of the greatest Hebrew king at the height of his glory [cf. 2 Par. 9:15 ff.; Deut. 8:4]. Moreover, the reference to Solomon is calculated to remind one directly that his power and glory were the special results of God’s providence.

After this Jesus repeats his prohibition of solicitude, and then adds a fifth reason: it is a characteristic of the pagans to care thus for their temporal necessities. Christians ought to remember that they have a Father in God, who dwells in heaven and therefore knows their needs and is able to alleviate them. Our Lord then contrasts our necessary with our superfluous solicitude, a laudable care with an objectionable one. He alludes to the custom that small trifles are given us gratis, if we buy valuable goods. The word “first” cannot mean first in time, as if we could be solicitous about earthly necessities after we have made sure of our heavenly life; nor can it well signify “only,” so that Jesus would enjoin on us to seek only the kingdom of God and his justice [Paschasius, Cajetan, Schegg, Schanz]; but it means most probably “first in dignity,” just as in the Our Father we pray absolutely and primarily for our spiritual needs, secondarily and conditionally for our daily bread [cf. Augustine, Dionysius, Jansenius, Salmeron, Arnoldi, Bisping, Fillion, Knabenbauer etc.]. The justice we are bidden to seek is that justice which God has commanded us to acquire, which he alone can give and preserve. It has been explained in the previous pages wherein this justice precisely consists. It follows from the loving care of our heavenly Father that we are not to be solicitous for the morrow; Schanz sees in this a prohibition ‘of solicitude for the future in general, while Jerome, Augustine, Euthymius, Maldonado, Lapide, Arnoldi, Weiss adhere to the strict meaning of the words, and allow, therefore, a proper care for the present day. Our Lord’s prohibition is again full of lovingkindness for his followers; since every day has its sufficient burden of care, it would be too heavy a load to carry the care of the morrow together with that of to-day. Hereby Jesus does not wish to exclude all foresight for the future; the example of Joseph in Egypt during the years of plenty, and of our Lord who allowed one of the twelve to carry the purse, the solicitude of the apostles [Acts 11:29], and the warning of Solomon [Prov. 6:6 f.; 30:25] sufficiently show that a care for the future, which does not exclude the absolute and primary care for our spiritual safety, is not forbidden.

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One Response to Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 6:19-34

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time | stjoeofoblog

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