Sunday, 26 May 2013
Notes on the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 6
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
This is the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew. This chapter contains the middle portion of the Sermon on the Mount and includes the Lord's Prayer. The first part deals with the outward and inward expression of piety and refers to almsgiving, supplication and fasting. These are the three most important outward expressions of the Jewish faith. Jesus (a.s.) endorses the Law of Moses (a.s.) but expands on the understanding of the acts of worship. He stresses that sincere worship is not ostentatious. He strongly condemns those who make public displays of their piety as hypocritical since the sincerity of the ‘ibadah is lost. This is very much in accord with the Islamic understanding as taught by Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). The middle portion of the chapter, from the nineteenth verse deals with the understanding of the jurisprudence of possessions and the issues of priorities and trust.
1”Be sure you do not perform your acts of piety before men, for them to watch; if you do that, you have no title to a reward from your Father who is in Heaven. 2Thus, when thou givest alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and in streets, to win the esteem of men. Believe me, they have their reward already. 3But when thou givest alms, thou shalt not so much as let thy left hand know what thy right hand is doing, 4so secret is thy almsgiving to be; and then thy Father, Who Sees what is done in secret, will Reward thee. 5And when you pray, you are not to be like hypocrites, who love to stand praying in synagogues or at street-corners, to be a mark for men’s eyes; believe me, they have their reward already. 6But when thou art praying, go into thy inner room and shut the door upon thyself, and so pray to thy Father in secret; and then thy Father, Who Sees what is done in secret, will Reward thee.
The first verse begins the discussion of how even good deeds can be done for the wrong reasons. There is some debate over the term translated as ‘alms.’ In the ancient manuscripts, there are two different versions of this verse. One has ‘dikaisune.’ This term can be translated as alms-giving, but it can also be much more broadly understood as referring to any act of piety. By this translation, this verse becomes a condemnation of all overt religiosity. The second version has ‘eleemosune,’ which explicitly refers to alms giving. Based on the overall theme of the section, it is more likely that dikaisune was the original word. Also, as eleemosune appears in the second verse, that that verse would be redundant if the two words are the same. It is likely that this was a copying error. Such an error would never be permitted in the study of the Qur’an. These verses states that proper piety is not done to impress others. It is impossible for good deeds to be the product of ill intentions since God Almighty looks at the heart and judges a deed upon its intention. This argument is linked to the condemnation of the Pharisees, an important theme of Jesus’ (a.s.) teachings. The Pharisees were well known for their displays of overt and sanctimonious piety.
The three main displays of piety in Jesus' (a.s.) era: alms giving, supplication, and fasting all are discussed here. Alms giving was a religious act, one commanded in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy and other places. In this era all were expected to contribute alms, and services for the needy were funded through them. The Jewish institution of tzedaqah is very much similar to the Muslim institution of zakat.
11For indeed there will be no lack of poor men in the land that is to be thy home; I must needs warn thee, then, to be open-handed towards thy brother, thy fellow-countryman, when he is poor and in want.
Jesus (a.s.) condemns the hypocrites who give to charity for their own glory rather than for piety. In Classical Greek, a hypocrite was an actor who pretended to be another person on stage. By the time the Septuagint was written, the word had gained the negative connotations that it has today, and it in the Gospel according to Matthew, the word is clearly pejorative. The term used by Jesus (a.s.) with regards to zakat and swadaqa on ‘thy left hand know what thy right hand is doing,’ was also used by Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) in a hadits.
There is much debate over the final words of the fourth verse. Ancient manuscripts are divided about whether the verse should end with ‘reward you openly’ or simply ‘reward you.’ The second version implies a spiritual reward. An open reward, one that will be seen by others, is unusual, and Christian theology as a whole rejects the idea that the faithful are rewarded on Earth. Many scholars feel that ‘openly’ is a gloss added later to this verse.
The fifth verse opens the discussion on the proper procedure for supplication. This verse extends the exhortation of the previous verses that alms giving should be sincere and secret to prayer, another cornerstones of Jewish worship. Jesus (a.s.) condemned as hypocrites those who make an ostentatious display of praying. For those who pray to be seen by others, their only reward will be the adulation of their peers but they will be amongst the losers in the Hereafter for there will no reward for what they did from God. Similarly, there is a verse in the Gospel according to Luke, where a Pharisee is condemned for seeking out the most prominent location in the Temple to pray.
9There were some who had confidence in themselves, thinking they had won acceptance with God, and despised the rest of the world; to them he addressed this other parable: 10Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, the other a publican. 11The Pharisee stood upright, and made this prayer in his heart, ‘I thank thee, God, that I am not like the rest of men, who steal and cheat and commit adultery, or like this publican here; 12for myself, I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13And the publican stood far off; he would not even lift up his eyes towards Heaven; he only beat his breast, and said, ‘God, be Merciful to me; I am a sinner.’ 14I tell you, this man went back home higher in God’s Favour than the other; everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and the man who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
As with charitable giving the true believer should act in secret. As with the fourth verse of Matthew, most scholars feel that ‘openly’ is an erroneous addition at the end of this verse.
7Moreover, when you are at prayer, do not use many phrases, like the heathens, who think to make themselves heard by their eloquence. 8You are not to be like them; your Heavenly Father Knows Well what your needs are before you ask Him. 9This, then, is to be your prayer, ‘Our Father, Who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name; 10Thy Kingdom Come; Thy Will be Done, on earth as it is in Heaven; 11Give us this day our daily bread; 12and Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us; 13and Lead us not into temptation, but Deliver us from evil. Amen. 14Your Heavenly Father will Forgive you your transgressions, if you forgive your fellow men theirs; 15if you do not forgive them, your Heavenly Father will not Forgive your transgressions either.
These verses discuss the procedure of prayer and introduce the only known supplication taught by Jesus (a.s.) and still practiced widely by Christians, The Lord’s Prayer. The term translated as ‘vain repetitions’ or more charitably as ‘many phrases’ is ‘battalogein.’ This word is unknown outside this verse appearing in none of the contemporary literature. It might be linked to the Greek term for babbling, or it might also be derived from the Hebrew ‘batel,’ vain. It is often assumed to be a related to the word ‘polugein,’ and thus a reference to a large quantity of words.
The sixth verse moves away from condemning the hypocrites to condemning the Gentiles. Jesus (a.s.) condemned the lengthy supplication of the Gentiles, and teaches the adab of ud’iyyah, supplication. Such supplications are unnecessary as God is Aware of a person's desire even before they ask. This is an important understanding of His Omniscience. Also, lengthy supplications are more for worldly benefit, to be seen as pious, rather than food for the soul. A similar statement is made in the Book of Isaiah.
24Answer shall come ere cry for help is uttered, prayer find Audience while it is yet on their lips.
This raises the question of why supplication is even necessary at. While God does not need prayer, we do. Supplication is the acknowledgement of His Majesty and Ownership, of His Generosity and Wealth as compared to our poverty and helplessness. In the recognition of Him, it is unbecoming to badger the Lord of Creation since that implies an inadequacy of faith.
The ninth verse commences the instruction to pray in the manner that follows. The Muslim view of this is that Jesus (a.s.) acknowledges his humanity and separation from the Divine. There is nothing here to say that he is part of a triune godhead, but rather a prophet guiding those around him.
The word translated as ‘Father’ is ‘Abba.’ This is a somewhat informal term that would have been used by young children to address their father or a term that adult children would sometimes use, and a general term of reverence for any elder male in a community. It is more likely that it was translated from the Aramaic or Hebrew version of Rabba, one of the Names of God in the Qur’an into the Latin ‘Pater,’ before coming to English as Father. In these series of translations, it has lost much of its original meaning and connotation.
‘Hallowed by Thy Name’ is similar to a portion of the synagogue prayer known as the Qaddish. Qaddish is Aramaic for ‘holy.’ It is a hymn of praises to God found in the Jewish prayer service. The central theme of the Qaddish is the magnification and sanctification of God's Name. In the liturgy, different versions of the Qaddish are used functionally as separators between sections of the service.
The term ‘Qaddish‘ is often used to refer specifically to the Mourners' Qaddish, said as part of the mourning rituals in Judaism in all prayer services, as well as at funerals other than at the grave site and memorials. The opening words of this prayer are inspired by the Book of Ezekiel, a vision of God becoming great in the eyes of all the nations.
23My Greatness, My Holiness, shall then be Displayed for a world of nations to see, and they will recognise My Power at last.
The Greek word for hallowed was a rare one, and like the English term almost only found in a Biblical context. It means to honour or revere, but also to worship and glorify. In Judaism the Name of God is of extreme importance, and honouring the name central to piety. This is the same with Islam, since the 99 Names of God are also the Names of His Attributes.
The tenth verse contains the second and third petitions to God. The opening of this verse, like the end of the last ones, echoes the Qaddish. ‘Thy will be done’ is not found in Luke's version of this prayer. The Christians view Kingdom is a metaphor for the Kingdom of God that the Jewish messiah was meant to bring. From a Muslims understanding, it is the call of ma’arifah, the recognition that all Creation is His Kingdom, that He is Malik al-Mulk. The Christians also debate over eschatological aspect of the third petition. The Will of God is apparent to the Muslim. It is what is. There cannot be two wills since then, there would be two god and that is impossible. God is Manifest and His Will is Apparent. Everything is as He Wills and this petition is a subscription to that Will.
The eleventh verse the third one of the Lord's Prayer. This brief verse contains the fourth petition to God. This petition marks a change the character of the prayer. The first three petitions called for the glory of God in the second person. This petition, and the two that follow, call for personal needs to be met in the second person plural. The manner of this is similar to Surah al-Fatihah when the verses shifts from oblique discourse, mentioning Allah (s.w.t.) as the third person in the first four verses of Surah al-Fatihah, to direct discourse, addressing Him directly from the fifth verse onwards. It has moved from the Absent to the Present.
With regards the mention of bread, the most basic and literal is the need for bread in basic life and survival. In this era, bread was the most important food, especially for the poor and dispossessed segments of society that Jesus (a.s.) referenced frequently in the Sermon on the Mount. But that is at the most literal understanding. There is a deeper spiritual understanding as a metaphor, of God as the Provider for everyone of everything. It is the acknowledgement that our rizq is in His Hand.
The Christians also possible to read an eschatological message into the verse. In the New Testament, bread is a common symbol of eschatological blessedness, linked to the manna Provided by God to the Israelites during Exodus. Bread, thus, represents the Reward the faithful can expect from God at the end of times. This understanding was popular in the early church. The Catholic Church interprets this verse as referencing the bread of the Last Supper and the Eucharist. But nowhere in the Gospel is there a reference to the rituals of the Eucharist. Historically, the ritual only developed some time after the Gospels were written.
The word rendered as ‘daily,’ is ‘epiousios.’ Epiousios is a unique Greek word as recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew here and the Gospel according to Luke:
3Give us this day our daily bread;
.The word is not found anywhere else in the original scriptures of the Bible, nor, anywhere else in all of Classical Greek literature. The Greek term otherwise used throughout the New Testament for ‘daily’ is ‘kath hemeran,’ better translated as, ‘according to the day.’ ‘Epiousios’ was rendered as ‘cotidianum,’ ‘daily,’ in the Vetus Latina and revised to supersubstantialem in the Vulgate, albeit only in Matthew's version. The word's use was long thought to be restricted to the two versions of the Lord's Prayer in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke. This would have made it a hapax legomenon, from Greek, meaning ‘a word used only once.’ This word has been used only in Christian circles and lacks meaning outside the context of the Eucharist.
The twelfth verse is the fourth one of the Lord's Prayer. This verse contains the fifth petition to God. The Greek word here translated as debts literally meant financial debts owed to another. However, the Aramaic word for debts could also mean sins or errors. In the Gospel according to Luke, the similar prayer has a more metaphorical wording. It is generally accepted that this verse is talking about sins, rather than loans. This verse has thus often been translated with the word, ‘trespasses’ in place of the word, ‘debts.’ However, some groups have read this verse as condemning all forms of lending. Forgiveness had a central role in the Judaism of the period, and asking for Forgiveness from God was a staple of Jewish prayers. It was also considered proper for individuals to be forgiving of others, for mistakes they made. To be pious, one must forgive one's fellows as God Forgives all. This verse presupposes universal sinfulness.
The thirteenth verse is the fifth and final one of the Lord's Prayer. One of the most important issues with this verse is that it seems to imply that God is the One Who Leads us into sin, not humanity's innate sinfulness as Christian theologians generally believe. A literal reading of this verse could imply that God is the source of evil. There are several explanations for getting around this. The first is that temptation is not an accurate translation. The Greek term, peirasmos’ can mean temptation, but can also mean, ‘test of character.’ At several points in the Bible God Tests his followers and this is more accurately a plea to avoid Divine Trials and Tests. This would be a departure from the Judaism of the period where the faithful pray to be Tested, so that they could prove their loyalty to God. It has also been suggested that the Greek is only a loose translation of the Aramaic, and that Jesus (a.s.) would originally have used the expression. ‘cause us not to enter,’ which does not imply that God is the cause of temptation, but only the Protector against it.
The final sentence of this verse sometimes includes the following phrase:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.
This phrase, the doxology, is often considered to be a later addition to the text. Modern translations generally omit it. It is absent in the oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel according to Matthew, and most scholars do not consider it part of the original text. It first appears in a slightly shorter form in the Didache from around 130 CE. The Didache is also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. ‘Didache’ means ‘teaching.’ It is a brief early Christian treatise, dated by most scholars to the late 1st or early 2nd Century. The first line of this treatise is, "Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles." The text, parts of which constitute the oldest surviving written catechism, has three main sections dealing with Christian ethics, rituals such as baptism and the Eucharist, and Church organisation. It is considered the first example of the genre of the Church Orders. The work was considered by some of the Church Fathers as part of the New Testament but rejected as or non-canonical by others. It was eventually not accepted into the New Testament canon of Western Pauline Christianity. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s broader canon includes the Didascalia, a work which draws on the Didache.
The doxology appears in at least ten different forms in early texts before becoming standardized. This further implies that it might not have been original to the Gospel. A popular theory is that the doxology was originally appended to the prayer during congregational worship, as it is was standard for Jewish prayers to have such endings. Once the phrase became the standard ending to the prayer in worship copyists that were used to the longer form added the line to the Gospel itself. An alternate explanation is that the doxology was such an important and well known part of prayers that early editions simply left it out of the text because such an ending was implicit.
The fourteenth and fifteenth verses come just after the Lord's Prayer and explain one of the statements in that prayer. This verse parallels the twelfth, but while that one speaks of debts this one speaks of trespasses. It states that for a person to earn God's Forgiveness, they must also be willing to forgive others. Those who do not forgive will not be Forgiven by God. It is also similar in subject matter to the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant found in the eighteenth chapter of this Gospel. This verse is often considered to have been appended to the prayer by the author of the Gospel according to Matthew.
16Again, when you fast, do not shew it by gloomy looks, as the hypocrites do. They make their faces unsightly, so that men can see they are fasting; believe me, they have their reward already. 17But do thou, at thy times of fasting, anoint thy head and wash thy face, 18so that thy fast may not be known to men, but to thy Father who dwells in secret; and then thy Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward thee.
The sixteenth to eighteenth verses discuss fasting. Previously this chapter discussed proper procedures for alms giving and prayer. In these verses, Jesus (a.s.) moves on the third important form of Jewish worship, fasting. Fasting was an important part of piety in this period. All Jews were expected to fast on major holidays, such as the Day of Atonement, but some far more often, sometimes twice a week. Jesus' (a.s.) views on fasting parallels his views of other forms of worship. He decries public spectacle of piety, and assures his followers that the reward for such worship is only public adulation, and God gives no reward for this behaviour.
The term, ‘make their faces unsightly,’ ‘aphanizo’ literally means. ‘make their faces invisible.’ It may refer to putting ash on the face to darken one's complexion and make sure that everyone around is aware that one is fasting. This may also reflect the original meaning of hypocrite as actor, as these fasters are putting on a show of suffering.
These verses attacked how the hypocrites made a spectacle of fasting, making everyone around them aware of their pious suffering. Jesus (a.s.) counseled his followers to hide any discomfort. Anointing the head and washing the face were both considered parts of daily hygiene. Jesus (a.s.) taught his followers to maintain an physical cleanliness and hide any suffering they might be undergoing for their piety.
Jesus (a.s.) did not end the practicing of fasting. It was Paul who spoke out against the efficacy of fasting. Fasting no longer has a major role in most modern Christian churches. The message is that even if one's piety is kept secret from those around us, God is still Aware of it and is able to Reward. It thus separates the Awareness of the Divine from the need to exhibit since that taints the intention of an act of worship.
19Do not lay up treasure for yourselves on earth, where there is moth and rust to consume it, where there are thieves to break in and steal it; 20lay up treasure for yourselves in Heaven, where there is no moth or rust to consume it, no thieves to break in and steal. 21Where your treasure-house is, there your heart is too. 22The eye is the light of the whole body, so that if thy eye is clear, the whole of thy body will be lit up; 23whereas if thy eye is diseased, the whole of thy body will be in darkness. And if the light which thou hast in thee is itself darkness, what of thy darkness? How deep will that be! 24A man cannot be the slave of two masters at once; either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will devote himself to the one and despise the other. You must serve God or money; you cannot serve both.
The nineteenth and twentieth verses open the discussion of wealth. These verses are paralleled in the Gospel according to Luke.
33Sell what you have, and give alms, so providing yourselves with a purse that time cannot wear holes in, an inexhaustible treasure laid up in Heaven, where no thief comes near, no moth consumes.
This verse marks a change in subject matter from the first half of this chapter. The first half was a description of proper procedure for worship, and an attack on those who made public display of their piety. This verse begins a discussion of wealth and material goods, and why they are not useful. The reference to moths is with regards the destruction of fabrics and clothing. In this era, articles of clothing were a major investment. The use of rust, brosis in the Greek, is less certain. The word means ‘eating’ and it could refer to the oxidisation that eats away metals, but the verse could also be referring to vermin.
In contrast to all of these material things that can be destroyed or lost, investments in Heaven cannot be threatened by others. All that is material will eventually pass away. Jesus (a.s.) suggests this is the most secure form of investment. This is consistent with the teachings of Islam.
All that is on earth will perish; but will abide (forever) the Face of thy Lord ― full of Majesty, Bounty and Honour. (Surah ar-Rahman:26-27)
The twenty-first verse continues the discussion on wealth. In the previous two verses, Jesus (a.s.) explained why one should store one's treasure in Heaven rather than on earth. This verse states that if one place one's treasure in Heaven that is where one's heart will be. One whose treasure is on earth, hiss heart will always be on earthly matters, to the exclusion of God. One whose treasure is in Heaven, will have his heart there. Essentially, the only Treasure is God.
The twenty-second and twenty-third verses speak of the state of the heart. This verse refers to the eye as a metaphorical window by which light enters the body. The eyes are the windows to the soul. The light is the emanation from the Divine. One whose heart is attuned to the Divine beholds the light. And one who does not, is in darkness, the darkness of ignorance and unbelief. This is eloquently addressed in the Qur’an:
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is as if there were a niche and within it, a lamp: the lamp enclosed in glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth Guide whom He Will to His Light: Allah doth Set Forth parables for men: and Allah doth Know all things. (Surah an-Nur:35)
This profound verse, explains the source of that light which enlightens the soul. It is more than knowledge. It is gnosis, ma’arifah. It contrasts with the verse in reference to the darkened soul.
Or (the Unbelievers' state) is like the depths of darkness in a vast deep ocean overwhelmed with billow topped by billow, topped by (dark) clouds: depths of darkness one above another: if a man stretches out his hand, he can hardly see it! For any to whom Allah Giveth not light there is no light! (Surah an-Nur:40)
The twenty-third verse puts great emphasis on the depth of darkness that a poor spiritual eye will place a person in. Those so blinded cannot even realise that they are in darkness. The metaphor of light as holiness and darkness as evil is also found in the scrolls of Qumran literature and in the Gospel according to John.
The twenty-fourth verse is a famous verse which continues the discussion of wealth, and makes explicit what was implied in twenty-first verse; that a person cannot pursue both material wealth and spiritual well being. The two goals are mutually exclusive. This famous saying also appears in the Gospel according to Luke 16:13, but there, it comes at the end of the Parable of the Unjust Steward.
13No servant can be in the employment of two masters at once; either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will devote himself to the one and despise the other. You must serve God or money; you cannot serve both.
In the Gospel according to Luke, the verse is clearly about God and money. In the Gospel according to Matthew, the previous verses actually imply placing anything above God. In Islam, that would be considered shirk, polytheism. The word ‘mammon’ translated here as ‘money,’ was a standard one for money or possessions. In the literature of the period, it is generally not a pejorative term. The Jews were frequently called upon to honour God with their mammon, by making donations. Some other texts, such as the non-canonical 1st Book of Enoch, use the pursuit of mammon as a negative contrast to the pursuit of holiness. Traditionally, it was believed that Mammon was the name of a pagan god synonymous with greed, but there is no evidence that a god by this name was ever worshipped and it is uncertain how this word entered the lexicon. Despite this, the word is still frequently left untranslated in many texts as though it were a personal name.
The word translated as ‘serve’ here, is literally ‘be a slave to.’ This is in contrast to the Gospel according to Luke where the reference is to servants. This is important since while a servant might have more than one employer, it was impossible for a slave to have two masters. The slave metaphor is, therefore, the clearer one. This verse also parallels part of Saying 47 of the non-canonical Gospel according to Thomas.
25I say to you, then, do not fret over your life, how to support it with food and drink; over your body, how to keep it clothed. Is not life itself a greater gift than food, the body than clothing? 26See how the birds of the air never sow, or reap, or gather grain into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father Feeds them; have you not an excellence beyond theirs? 27Can any one of you, for all his anxiety, add a cubit’s growth to his height? 28And why should you be anxious over clothing? See how the wild lilies grow; they do not toil or spin; 29and yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30If God, then, so Clothes the grasses of the field, which to-day live and will feed the oven to-morrow, will he not be much more ready to clothe you, men of little faith? 31Do not fret, then, asking, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘How shall we find clothing?’ 32It is for the heathen to busy themselves over such things; you have a Father in Heaven Who Knows that you need them all. 33Make it your first care to find the kingdom of God, and His Approval, and all these things shall be yours without the asking. 34Do not fret, then, over to-morrow; leave to-morrow to fret over its own needs; for to-day, to-day’s troubles are enough.
The twenty-fifth verse shifts the discussion from one of money to one of worry. This verse begins a discussion on why one should not be over anxious about the material. The word translated as ‘life’ could also refer to the soul, but writers of the period did not see a distinction between the two concepts. This verse is also interpreted as a reminder that God Provides life and so there should no doubt that He also Provides the necessities of survival. The word translated in this verse as ‘eat‘ is the same word frequently translated as ‘rust’ in the nineteenth verse. The nature of the world consumes and one consumed by it is lost. The Nature of the Divine is al-Hayy, Eternal Life and one who is drowned in it, lives forever.
Is the twenty-sixth verse, Jesus (a.s.) tells his followers not to be anxious about food, but to rely on God as the birds, which are worth far less than people, are fully Provided for. The opening verb in this verse can mean either ‘consider’ or ‘behold.’ There are several debates amongst the Christians over this verse. Firstly, it can be interpreted as a commandment to idleness, as God Provides for all. This view is countered by pointing out that birds are far from idle, having to go to a great deal of effort to gather their food. Martin Luther commented that God Provides food, but does not drop it in their beaks. The verse has also been read as a call for self-sufficiency or for a return to a hunter gatherer lifestyle, something advocated by Seneca.
What the Christian commentators have failed to understand, the issue of the birds is not a debate about work and idleness. It is about the recognition that it is ultimately God Alone Who is the Provider. It has to be read with the earlier verses about keeping the eye on the Divine. There cannot be a recognition of God and His Omniscience as long as the focus is on the ability of Creation. In this and in many aspects of spirituality, Christianity is far behind Islam. They do not even know what their prophet is telling them since they look with the intellect when the understanding of God is only possible with a purified heart.
In the original Greek, the twenty-seventh verse speaks of adding one cubit, a word and a measure of length derived from the forearm. It was usually equivalent to about 46 centimetres or 18 inches. It is odd to increase the lifespan by an amount of length, as a lifespan is measured in time, not distance. There are two methods of resolving this dilemma. The first is to read cubit as a metaphorical term that can stand for any unit of measurement, and this verse is thus speaking of adding time to the lifespan. Most modern Bible translations, including the World English Bible, take this approach. The second option, taken by the creators of the King James Version, is to argue that the Greek term usually translated as lifespan, ‘helikia,’ can also sometimes mean stature, and this verse is thus speaking of adding physical height to the body. With either translation, the meaning of this verse is the same. Jesus (a.s.) telling us that there is nothing to gain in life by being worried or anxious.
In the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth verses, Jesus (a.s.) presents the example of the lilies, which also do no labour. It is a metaphor on submission to Divine Will. ‘Spin’ is a reference to spinning thread, a labour intensive but necessary part of making clothing. Spinning was traditionally women's work. This then is one of the few pieces of evidence that Jesus' (a.s.) message is meant equally for women as for men. Many varieties of flowers grow wildly and abundantly in Galilee. The translation of lilies is traditional, but far from certain. The verse could also just mean flowers in general, rather than a specific variety. ‘In the field’ implies that these are the wildflowers growing in the fields, rather than the cultivated ones growing in gardens.
This verse is quite a well known one, appearing frequently in art and literature. John Keats' ‘Ode on Indolence’ quotes it. Pelham Wodehouse humorously used the phrase to refer to the idle rich who do no labour. Many other writers have also directed the phrase at the rich and idle. There is also a great movie by this name: Lilies of the Field (1963 Film). Jesus (a.s.) stated that naturally, the flowers are as finely dressed as King Solomon (a.s.). The word translated as ‘arrayed’ specifically refers to being dressed in ornate clothing.
In the thirtieth verse, he states that if God clothes the lowly flowers so grandly, he will certainly ensure that his human followers are properly clad. This is very similar to the twenty-sixth verse, with lilies and clothes in place of birds and food. The grass of the field of this verse is presumed to be the lilies of the twenty-seventh verse. Jesus (a.s.) referred to the abundant wild flowers that filled local fields. Because wood has always been in short supply in Palestine, the burning of grasses was an important source of fuel. They were a source of fuel for the clay ovens used to bake the bread.
There are two lessons generally read into this verse. The first is that beauty and the physical are fleeting, what is splendid one day can be thrown into the fire the next. This reiterates the twentieth verse where Jesus (a.s.) contrasted the impermanence of the physical with the eternal nature of the spiritual. This has always been the teachings of the prophets and can even be found in the Old Testament.
6A Voice came, Bidding me cry aloud; asked I, “In what words?”; In these: “Mortal things are but grass, the glory of them is but grass in flower; 7grass that withers, a flower that fades, when the Lord’s Breath Blows upon it. The whole people, what is it but grass? 8Grass that withers, a flower that fades; but the word of our Lord Stands Forever.”
Secondly it shows how unimportant these flowers are. They are commonly sacrificed en masse for the simple task of baking bread, yet God Provides them with beautiful raiments. If God Provides for such lowly flowers, He surely Does so for us all. The Gospel according to Thomas contains a version of this verse, but it comes to a very different conclusion, arguing that clothing is useless and should be dispensed with.
In the thirty-first and thirty-second verses, Jesus (a.s.) issues a clear command not to be anxious for the world but to recognise that there is a Provider. Recognition is important for it is a preclude to gratitude. It is the heathen, the disbeliever who is ungrateful. Shirk is the ultimate for of ingratitude. Anxiety is impiety since it represents doubt in God. True followers of God should have no worries as God is Aware of their needs and will Provide for them. It is important to note that the verse refers to God Meeting the needs of believers, not desires.
The thirty-third verse comforts the believers by tying God the Provider to God the Generous. It is a Divine Promise that if one places the pursuit of the Kingdom of God first, then material needs will follows without need for worry or anxiety. The present imperative verb ‘seek’ makes it clear that pursuing the Divine is not a passive act, but one that must be pursued with rigour. ‘Kingdom of God’ is a somewhat unusual phrase, with the authors of this Gospel generally preferring ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’ Even without the word, it is quite clear that this is a reference to the Kingdom of God. The Divine Kingdom is not Heaven. Muslims understand it to mean the Divine Presence.
The thirty-fourth, and final, verse of the sixth chapter concludes the discussion of worry about material provisions. This verse is not found in the Gospel according to Luke. ‘Morrow’ can either mean the next day in particular, or the future in general. The word here translated as ‘evil,’ ‘kakia,’ can mean that, but more likely it simply means ‘trouble’ or ‘difficulty,’ rather than the evil of Satan. The verse had parallels in the wisdom literature of the period in the Near East.
The meaning of the verse is clear to the Gnostic. Since God is the Owner of Creation and the Master of Fate, we do not know our time in this world. The moments that have passed are an illusion and the moment to come, the next breath, the next heart beat, is not guaranteed. It is, therefore, presumptuous to place too much hope in the planning for the morrow and the seeking of the world when we do not know when we will leave this world. And surely it is God Alone Who Knows best.