A few of us are reading the Sermon on the Mount every day during Lent. (You’re welcome to join us!) What stood out to me as I read this morning is the placement of that familiar command: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) It appears toward the end of a passage about not being anxious about the necessities of life.
Perhaps because of some experiences my wife and I had recently related to family finances, what came to mind as I read that verse in Matthew 6 was a separate passage in the book of Mark. In Mark 10, a young, rich, influential man comes up to Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells the man to sell everything he owns and give it to the poor. The man walks away disheartened “for he had great possessions.” Later, Peter says to Jesus, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” To which Jesus responds:
“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (10:29-31)
This is an extraordinary teaching, and even more so when we consider that Jesus lived in a culture in which the family home was the cornerstone of economic and social life. Jesus seems to be describing in Mark 10 a new family, a community of care that is radically inclusive (Jews and Gentiles, poor and rich, formerly poor and formerly rich, men and women, young and old, slave and free) and that stretches across physical distance and time. We see in the book of Acts that the early church lived out this new vision of family by considering everything they owned to be held in common and by creating a structure through which everyone’s economic needs were met.
In Matthew 6, Jesus says that we shouldn’t be anxious about what we will eat, drink, or wear. God knows we need them all. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” I assume that this verse has been misused throughout history to imply that anyone who has a lot of stuff must be especially righteous. But what if Jesus is saying, at least in part, that as we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness our needs will be met by others in the family of God? And, by implication, that as we live into an alternative kingdom–a kingdom characterized by love, hope, generosity, hospitality, self-sacrifice and radical non-judgment, through Christ who gives us strength–we will help meet the needs of others? It’s not manna from heaven but it’s no less miraculous.