Here’s the frame: I’ll assume that the text is not a static picture or representation upon which I ought to reflect. I’ll assume that the text is not an object of contemplation.
Rather, I’ll assume that the text is itself an agent, something more like a computer program than a still from a movie. The point of the text is to do something, to make something happen, to enroll some agent or entrain some agent in some other agent(s)’ project.
The text is an operation. It’s a plug-in that needs to be run.
But we’ve got compatibility problems, cross-platform issues that require the text to be translated back into machine-code and then creatively recompiled. If we want it to run – rather than function as a museum piece – then we’re going to have to port the text onto the kind of platforms we’ve got available. We’re going to have to render the text sufficiently pliable to cross the gap.
Hopefully, however, once it’s up and running, this kind of program will work more like a virus than a webpage and it, in turn, will exapt, repurpose and reconfigure the operating system itself in surprising ways.
Jesus-text: an applet for inception.
Such a project can fail in a number of ways: (1) we might not be able to get the text to run at all, (2) we might get it to run but only after having changed so much code that, functionally, it no longer resembles the original program, or (3) it might crash our operating systems altogether!
The measure for success in creatively porting this text: when we finally run it on the extant platform, does it produce charity?
Which brings me to my second assumption: whatever this text does, it will be for nothing if it does not show charity.
My working hypothesis is this: Matthew 6:24-7:1-2 consists of a series of concrete instructions for how to pay attention.
What does this matter? Attention is the sine qua non for both charity and Spirit. There is neither life, nor love, nor spirit without attention.
I’m going to take 6:24-34 as an operational unit. I’ll tack on 7:1-2 for fun.
With respect to 6:24-34, I’ll take 6:24 as the unit’s own thesis and 6:25-34 as an extended explanation of that thesis.
With respect to 6:25-34, I’ll take v25 and v34 as equivalent to one another. The initial explanation of v24 is given in v25 and then repeated, by way of conclusion, in v34. The middle section, verses 26-33, elaborates at length on the explanation of v25/34.
4. The Text
Here’s the full KJV text, formatted in such a way (with awkward blockquotes) to diagram the structure I outlined above:
24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, [shall he] not much more [clothe] you, O ye of little faith?
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day [is] the evil thereof.
5. Two Masters
I’m going to take the claim of 6:24 that “no man can serve two masters” as an injunction against multi-tasking.
Effectively, Jesus’ claim is that no person can pay attention to two things at the same time. Paying attention to two things at the same time amounts to not paying attention.
Here, “paying attention” means “serving.”
If you try to pay attention to two things at the same time, then you’ll fail to pay attention because your attention will bifurcate into “love” and “hate.” Instead of attending to and serving things in light of what they need from you, you’ll end up judging them in terms of your own preferences, in terms of your own likes or dislikes. This bifurcation of attention into modes of (self-) preference (i.e., love/hate) is the root of sin.
6. Take No Thought For Your Life
Jesus’ advice about how to pay attention – that is, for how to attend or serve – is repeated five times in these ten verses. It boils down to this: “take no thought.”
This is pretty straightforward advice. To pay attention to what’s going on, we have to stop thinking about stuff.
When you’re playing with your four-year old, stop thinking about what other stuff you have to do. When you’re on a date with your wife, stop thinking about the “insensitive” thing she (purportedly) did the other day. When you’re going to bed at night, stop thinking about your credit card balance. Et cetera. Be where you are, do what you’re doing.
Verse 25 initially encapsulates the gist of Jesus’ point by saying that you should “take no thought for your life.”
How does taking no thought for my life help me to serve and pay attention? For starters, in order to serve and attend to others I’m going to have to stop thinking about my life. If I’m thinking about my life when I’m supposed to be paying attention and serving, then my attention will bifurcate into preferential judgments about the stuff at hand.
Example: “I really should be paying attention to how well I wipe my baby’s bum while I change his diaper so he won’t get a rash, but I don’t like the smell of this poop so I’m thinking instead about going to the movies later.”
However, Jesus also has something more in mind. Taking thought for your life, he says, amounts to taking thought for what you are going to eat, drink, and wear.
Shouldn’t we take thought for these things? No, because life itself is “more than meat, and the body than raiment.”
What is this “more”?
7. Take No Thought For the Morrow
Verse 34 recapitulates, by way of conclusion, what Jesus means when he says that we should take no thought for our lives: “take no thought for the morrow.”
What is this “more” that life is? This “more” is the present moment. Life is more than our thoughts about what we ought to do next (or what we did or didn’t do yesterday). Life is more than this thinking about tomorrow. Life is the excess of this (unchosen) present moment, a moment that is too much, too full, to be mastered and, instead, can only be served.
Why do we prefer our thoughts about the future to the fulness of the present? Thoughts about the future are thin enough that we can manipulate them according to our preferences: in our fantasies about the future we get to play the master. But if we want to be in the present moment, the only way to be there is to serve.
Seek first to serve. Seek first “the kingdom of God, and his righteousness,” and all the rest of the future stuff “will be added unto you” because the present moment is always full enough to “take thought for the things of itself.” Tomorrow will bring its own “opportunities for service” (i.e., he kakia) that will be “sufficient unto the day.”
8. Judge Not
All of this advice about how and why we need to pay attention is then neatly summarized in these famous verses.
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (7:1-2)
Pragmatically, in order to pay attention, we must suspend judgment. We must stop judging things in terms of our preferences. We must stop taking thought for our lives. Life is more than preference – it’s service.
Judgment: the practice of taking (rather then receiving) thought.
With what judgment we judge, we shall be judged. If we suspend judgment and, instead, attend and serve, then we will be served in turn. The Father will feed us. God will clothe us. All the other things of life will be added unto us.
That is, if we can manage to pay attention.