Chapter 7: The Sermon on the Mount – Divine Providence
Matthew (5-7) speaks at length of the teachings of Jesus in the first Sermon on the Mount and of the relation between the Old and New Testaments; the types of prayer and petition; the wide and narrow doors; the two paths of life; and the importance of bearing good fruit. Teachings are plenty, far exceeding our meetings, but should be carefully read by everyone and applied in real life.
Today’s theme is God the Father, the first Person of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit – the principal element of rebirth in the Gospel passage of Nicodemus – is often mentioned elsewhere in the Gospel, and the life of Jesus is described at length throughout the Gospel, while even remote allusions to God the Father are rare. Is God really our ‘Father’, caring for us as His children, or is He a remote God, whom it would be impossible to call ‘Our Father’ and of whom we are not children made in His image and likeness? What is God the Father’s relationship with His creatures? This is the main theme of today’s discussion.
2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: Divine Providence (Mt 6:25-34)
25 “That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Surely life means more than food, and the body more than clothing! 26Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? 27Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single cubit to his span of life? 28And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; 29yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these. 30Now if that is how God clothes the grass in the field which is there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you men of little faith? 31So do not worry; do not say, ‘What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?’ 32It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. 33Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well. 34So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
2. 1- Explanation
This passage of the Gospel is a wonderful hymn about Divine Providence, but it has always been a source of numerous misinterpretations: for example, that it invites idleness. Jesus never wished to encourage laziness and sleep (he repeats the word ‘worry’ six times in this passage), but he is keen on keeping us detached from worldly matters which hinder us from seeking the Kingdom of Heaven and surrendering with trust to our Heavenly Father.
The first six verses (Mt 6:25-30) focus on avoiding excessive concern about food and clothing. Across history, men have concentrated on providing food, through sowing the fields, harvesting and building storage barns, while women provide clothing through spinning and sewing. Jesus tells us here, that if the Father cares for even the birds and feeds them, and arrays the flowers in the fields (weeds to some people!) in beautiful splendour, how much more will He care for His children?
The next six verses (Mt 6:31-36) focus on our principal aim in life, which should be to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. The main theme of the Sermon on the Mount is the Charter or Law of the Kingdom. Worldly matters are a faith issue, for those focusing on these matters are pagans and non-believers. “It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all (Mt 6:32) And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not?” (Mt 5:47) “In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6: 7-8). Jesus exhorts us to avoid the actions of pagans and strive to live in unity with God the Father, for He shall indeed provide material and spiritual necessities in due time.
The last verse (Mt 6:34) summarizes the essential rule for our life: Seek to live in the present day and do not worry about tomorrow. A major and burning preoccupation for many people is the fear of the future. If we remember the Hebrew people wandering in the desert, we see how they had to collect manna sufficient only for their survival day-by-day, during the Exodus, because the food would have become infested with worms and rotted if hoarded (Ex 16:4, 16-21). This is the lesson of Jesus to his disciples.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
Jesus invites us to trust God as a real father cares for his children, hence the need to surrender unconditionally to the Father’s will. In the Our Father, we say: “Give us today our daily bread”, reflecting the role of the father in the family: securing the daily bread of his children who, in turn, rely on him and trust him.
Let us behave unlike pagans who are concerned merely about worldly matters. The disciple must above all seek the Kingdom of God, in other words, seek the true treasure in his life, that is, the accomplishment of righteousness, the desire to fulfill the will of the Father, to live according to the law of the Kingdom of God and by His commandments. This is not to suggest that one should live passively with our arms crossed, but rather that we should strive to help others with whatever material aid we can provide. Sharing resources with others is a highly laudable act of charity.
In his infinite wisdom, Jesus asks us to avoid worrying about tomorrow, for each day is enough in itself. Often, man lays plans for his life, the life of his children, his old age etc. We work hard for a vague future, unknown and full of surprises; whereas Jesus calls us to nourish our faith in God on a day-to-day basis and invites us to leave the future in the hands of the Father.
In short, this passage of the Gospel invites us to a “committed tranquility of mind” in line with the Kingdom of Heaven and its righteousness (charity done in the name of God to our brethren). It frees us of the constant obsession that we are living as orphans, without anyone to care for us.
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: God the Father
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth …”
Believing in God as a father is one of the key creeds of Christianity. Merely believing in God is not enough, since even the impious know that He exists. However, Christians believe firmly that God the Father is a loving and caring father, looking after His children in every aspect of life. Some biological fathers are careless in their duties towards their children, but God is the true image of a tender, loving father. Believe that He is not only your father but also the father of every human being: He has, indeed, sent His only Son – Jesus Christ – that we might share in his divine sonship. Jesus is the Son of God according to nature and has become one of us, a human being, that we might be adoptive sons of the Father.
God the Father is Almighty, Ruler of all, “for nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). This truth is shared by all theist religions, but Christians add a dimension of love to God’s might, for God the Father is putting His might at our service. Jesus said: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). God is all-powerful, in the sense that He works for the salvation of all. When Jesus spoke of himself as the Good Shepherd, looking after his sheep and laying down his life for them, he added: “No one can steal anything from the hand of God the Father.” Through the Mystery of Redemption, God doesn’t let anything go astray but His task is the salvation of all; therefore, He sent His only Son to give us (eternal) life through him.
God the Father is the Creator of Heaven and Earth. St Paul says, “Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give” (Rom 8:32). We believe that God created Man and that He created the entire world for him. Creation is not an action of the past, as if God had finished His work, and that He is now at rest; Creation is, in fact, is an ongoing process, like a father caring for his children, giving them food and clothing, teaching them and standing by them. The Church also believes in Divine Providence, which does not mean that He wrote history in advance, and controls, as He pleases, people’s decisions and circumstances. Freedom is at the heart of man’s dignity and rights and God seeks to keep man free of all forms of slavery. A man free of slavery is unfettered and free to choose and love God out of conviction. God has given us the freedom to choose faith without constraints. God respects man’s free will and decisions, but He continues as well to inspire, to call, and to help man make the ‘right’ choice. Divine Providence is accompanying man, no matter how much man becomes estranged from God and no matter how hard his circumstances are. Human life is fragile and man is subject to pain and death. God laid down the laws of Nature but does not intervene to change them each day. Yet, as a caring Father, He stands by His children and walks beside them to save them if need be. Even in death, God is not absent, but comes to raise us up and give us the fullness of life, eternal life.
4- Reading and Meditation: Reading from the Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 239
By calling God ‘Father’, the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood (Ps 27: 10), although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.9