Scripture: Matthew 6: 19-7:12
McLaren unpacks the three core problems we encounter as people. These can turn us into dismal grouches and keep us from enjoying the life God has given us. In unpacking Jesus’ teaching, McLaren sees these as
1. Anxiety: This unchecked worry about our bodies, our need for food, clothing and security can lead us into grasping, dissatisfied kind of life missing the very abundance God has placed around us. Jesus points out how nature alone could teach us this is unnecessary -- if God cares for the birds of the air and the grass of the fields granting them abundant provision, won’t he likewise care for you?
When we worry we miss out on what is available for us to receive. Our hearts are focused on what we believe we lack. McLaren says Jesus’ antidote to worry is to seek God’s Kingdom and His justice (right living), and reminds us of his startling promise. That everything we need -- food, clothing, provision, security -- will be given us.
However, when we fail to check worry, that kind of anxious living creates a heart worried that someone is judging them, will constantly be judging others. And that’s the second core problem:
2. Judgment: “Anxious people are judgmental people” (142). McLaren takes us in this discussion to the two trees in the garden. One the tree of Life, of abundance, a place of trusting in all God has given. And the other the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, “whose fruit we grasp to know and judge everything and everyone around us as good or evil. ...we constantly judge us as good and condemn them as evil.”
Haven’t you experienced this kind of judgment -- when we want to clean someone else up, but don’t want to look at ourselves? The antidote to judgment is self examination. Just as when dealing with adultery, Jesus pointed out that we need to deal with our own tendency toward this-- if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off, etc, here Jesus says, to take the “plank out of your own eye.” The picture is that something inside you is hindering your ability to see, that your judgment flows from your own brokenness. So, clear up your sight.
McLaren says this all comes back to how we see -- looking at others to judge them is a kind of “seeing” which makes us blind to anything else. It is like when people wanted to break relationships with former close friends after the 2016 election, when they discovered how their friend had voted. Their judgment -- making this person all one color because of a decision that the other person disliked -- blinded them to all the good qualities in that person they’d previously appreciated. I was in many conversations encouraging people to simply be open to curiosity and ask questions to learn what else they thought and believed.
We need to deal with how we see, we need to take the step with our own eyes. Like when Jesus told his listeners that if they are at the altar bringing their gift and there remember that a brother has something against them, he said to leave the gift and go first be reconciled, then return to give. The call for us to act not to wait upon another. Get the plank out of our own eyes first, then we will be able to see to remove the splinter. Interesting that in Jesus’ hyperbole, when we judge we are noticing what is a splinter in comparison to the plank of judgment in our own eyes. Clearly-- dealing with our own stuff is essential.
The posture of life is to continue to seek God -- asking, knocking, seeking -- for God will always respond. This is the posture that underscores the third core problem for us people.
3. We do not realize how deeply we are loved: For if we did, we would consistently seek God in this life. That we don’t says we don’t really, deeply understand how deeply God loves us, and will respond to us with the good that we seek, as any human father or mother would only give the best to their child.
This passage ends with the ultimate advice from Jesus -- to simply do for others what you would like them to do for you. This can flow from a heart free from anxiety and judgment, a heart that knows, bottom line, he or she is deeply loved. Then we can give. In giving we will obviously receive.
McLaren says, “next time you’re grouchy, angry, anxious and uptight, here is some wisdom to help you come back from being ‘out of your mind’ to being ‘in your right mind’ again. Try telling yourself, My own anxiety is more dangerous to me than whatever I am anxious about. My own habit of condemning is more dangerous to me than what I condemn in others. My misery is unnecessary because I am truly, truly, truly loved. From that wisdom, unworried, unhurried, unpressured aliveness will flow again” (143). Good advice.
McLaren asks us to respond to this chapter by asking several questions. Here are a couple for you to ponder:
Share a story about a time you felt anxious, judgmental or both. We all have that kind of story, probably from this week!
How do you respond to the idea that our deepest problem is we don’t know we are loved? In what ways does it help you to think of God’s love as fatherly, and in what ways does it help to think of God’s love as motherly? Are there ways that imagining God as a loving friend helps you in ways that parental images for God don’t?
What is special for little children about having their parents around?
Anxiety-- although I missed that word in my 8th grade spelling bee and lost to Bonnie Hubbard because of it -- I’ve been good at anxiety all my life. I don’t practice worry, nowadays, and have grown so that I don’t dwell there. But I have come from a place of feeling anxious about many things. What will they think? How will they respond? Will I be liked? Will I be chosen for the team? Will I get the scholarship? Are they ok? Have they all died in a crash somewhere, that’s why there is no word? I’ve been through all these and more. The curious thing about feeling anxious is simply this: in the end nothing was impacted except me. It did not impact the scholarship committee, nor the team captain, nor the people around me. It only impacted me. We can kid ourselves, however, saying: “Think of how much worse this might have been had I not fretted about it?” The truth is like I said, anxiety and worry impact only me, only us experiencing them. They impact our health, our mental state, our spiritual lives. Someone wiser than me said to worry is to pray to ourselves. Phew. Is it any wonder Jesus taught so plainly about it, or that it is approached frequently in scripture from Psalm 37 and 73, Proverbs 3 (especially 3:25ff), to Philippians 4. Just do not do it!