Sunday, January 31, 2016

Blogging the sources: Matthew 6 -- Hidden things

To sum up the first half of this chapter: when you give alms, pray, or fast, do not do so publicly or with ostentation. "Like pagans and hypocrites." Rather, do them quietly and in secret, so that God only, "your Father who sees in secret," sees. (The Our Father prayer is inserted here.) He will repay you, "openly" the King James translation assures us. "Lay up treasure in heaven."

Well and good. Next, what of the strange verses about the eye being "the lamp of the body"?

"If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be."  

This seems flip-flopped. In our health-obsessed age, it seems more obvious to say that if your body is sound, your eye will be filled with light, in other words that it will reflect your good health. Just because a person's eye is "bad," his "whole body will be in darkness"? Really? Are the blind or, good grief, the nearsighted then full of darkness, spiritually? For surely it's that, implied.

Once again the King James Version helps. It translates "if your eye is evil," not just bad. Earlier this week my children (they're grown up) and I were talking about the stupid or degrading stuff you can see on Facebook sometimes, and of the unpleasant habits and consequences of life in general you see in hospital emergency rooms. My kids have interesting jobs. The latest video on Facebook is of the clown throwing a pie in a woman's face while both pass each other on a pair of side-by-side, up and down escalators somewhere. While he goes down afterwards, she in a fury tries to chase him even while her escalator is carrying her helplessly up. Of course he makes large faces, gestures shock, and such. It's meant to be funny. I like to foresee the next chapter, in which one of the clown's victims does something to send him to an emergency room. Or even better, puts on greasepaint and a red nose and sits in a chair outside his apartment building for, oh, I don't know -- years. Yes, an eye that takes in evil things can seem to fill the body with darkness. Perhaps that's what the Master meant.

Now about God, mammon, food, clothes, and worry about the future. If "mammon" means money and we're told we can't "serve" both God and mammon, isn't that what modern pundits call a false choice? Why is money bad when money not only buys food and health for me, but also constitutes alms for the poor? As for not being "anxious about what you will eat or what you will wear," it's passages like these that require annotators to assure us, in the fine print, that "Jesus does not deny the reality of human needs." Thank goodness. True that worry will not add a moment to one's lifespan -- "one cubit to his stature," the KJV says, which I like better -- but though the birds of the sky may not sow or reap, leading us to take comfort in the fact that they go on living, it's not exactly the case either that "your heavenly Father feeds them" just magically. They do spend most of their time scrounging for food. Are we supposed to do that, too? He just got through telling us we're better than they are. An odd thought in itself, in these days of PETA and our really sentimental love of animals. No clown would throw a pie in a dog's face. That would be mean.

Not to harp on the King James Bible, but I do think its poetry clarifies bizarre spiritual instructions like these better than firm modern prose. Besides, in using the KJV you can also enjoy spotting trivia. While we try to understand why not to worry, below, please find 1) the title of an old Sidney Poitier movie, and 2) a favorite Bertie Wooster quote, about the members of the Drones' Club, Freddie Threepwood and all, "toiling not, neither do they spin." Bertie is always nattering on about how he won a Scripture Prize in school.

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 
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?

"Shall he not much more clothe you" implies spiritual care a bit more readily than "will he not much more provide for you." To provide for is workaday. One can be clothed with many things, even ye of little faith. Pro-vide comes from the Latin, meaning "before seeing." Clothe is all English, cloth, back to Old English clath and clitha, poultice, from an Indo-European root meaning to stick or adhere. "See CLAY." The matter of man.

Hidden prayers, hidden darkness in the body, hidden needs perhaps. Needs beyond the obvious, shared by mere birds and "pagans." And then about that. Isn't Jesus, Mr. Compassion, a little judgmental?

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