Summary: In the Scripture lesson, Jesus tells the people not to worry about tomorrow. Seek God’s kingdom first, he says, and all the other stuff will take care of itself.
One Day at a Time
April 17, 2005
I don’t know if you know anything about the Jesus Seminar or not. We actually haven’t heard from them for several years now. I’m not sure that they are meeting any more or not. The Jesus Seminar was a group of biblical scholars who met over a period of several years back in the early and mid nineties for the purpose of finding an answer to the question, “What did Jesus really say?” The conclusion at which they arrived was that the gospels are colored by the individual biases of the writers, by the situations of the then contemporary church, and by the society and culture ‘round about.
They took a whole lot of flack and criticism for their work. They have been accused of denying the divine inspiration of Scripture and the possibility that God works in ways we don’t understand. A few years ago, I attended a continuing education seminar which was led by one of the members of the group. I half way expected him to have horns and a forked tail, but he turned out to be a warm, generous, and engaging personality.
One of the reasons the Jesus Seminary raised such ire among many people, and why they have been so roundly criticized, is that their work was decided by vote. After studying a particular saying of Jesus, they would cast their votes by the means of colored beads. Red meant that these were the actual words of Jesus. Pink meant that Jesus probably said something like this. Gray meant that the sentiments of the saying were certainly consistent with Jesus, although perhaps not in these words. And a black bead meant that Jesus did not say this, but rather this saying represents a later or different tradition.
What they produced was a new translation of the Gospels, decided on by vote of a committee. If 49% of the committee thought a saying was the actual words of Jesus while 51% didn’t think so, majority ruled.
You will obviously, and appropriately I think, have some questions and comments about the work of this committee of scholars. Probably you think that they have too much time on their hands and need to get a real job! But I purchased their translation and commentary a few years ago and find it interesting to read.
I consulted it when I started to write this sermon on Matthew 6 and found that they say something interesting about the lesson for this morning. They say, “Among the more important things Jesus said are a series of pronouncements on anxieties and fretting. It is possible that we have before us here the longest connected discourse that can be directly attributed to Jesus…” (“The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. Robert W. Funk, Roy. W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1993, page 152). So if the Jesus Seminar folks feel good about this lesson, that makes it doubly impressive for me!
The Bible is full of passages about trust in God, but this one is by far the most remembered. There were some in the early church who used this passage as license to be lazy. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and warned them against idleness. His famous words, “If a man will not work, he will not eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10) are directly aimed at those who think that they don’t have to do anything because God will care for their every physical need whether they work for it or not. But to see this passage from Matthew in the original context, we realize that it is aimed at the disciples who left everything to follow Jesus. They abandoned their vocations in order to learn from him and work with him in the establishment of the Kingdom. Because of that, they became as dependent on God as the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. The birds and flowers are not really models to be imitated, but symbols of God’s care in all things.
One commentator I read said that the hearers and the readers of the Sermon on the Mount have their attention drawn away, from what he says is the “frantic pursuit of the necessities of life to a calmer vision of God’s bountiful care…” (Douglas R.A. Hare, “Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching – Matthew” John Knox Press, 1993, page 74). This lesson was aimed at those who were preoccupied with gathering enough to secure their everyday existence and is testimony to the fact that Jesus believed that God would provide for human needs.
It is easy to find all sorts of things about which to worry. The risk we run is that we can be overwhelmed by the number of problems we face. We can get so preoccupied with a myriad of problems that we never solve any of them.