Sermon on the Mount (II)

The spiritual evening in January focused on the second part of the Sermon on the Mount, in chapter 6 of the Gospel of Matthew, which contains the Lord’s advice on how to relate to people, to objects, and to God Himself. In the terms of the law, we can understand them as three norms.

The first norm is: “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). The Lord exhorts us to be discreet, with the goal being to unite our heart with God, because He seeks out the transformation of our heart and its purification so that it may become an abode worthy of Him. He tells us, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3). Ellicott writes: “The right hand is the elevated spiritual element in us, which urges us to the deeds of true love, while the left hand is the inferior nature preoccupied with the self. We need to place a barrier between the two, as much as possible.” Saint Porphyrios also comments beautifully: “Do you, for example, wish to taste some joy from God? What is the secret here? Even if you believe and you ask for this joy and you say, ‘There is no way God will not give me this joy’, nevertheless, He does not give it. You yourselves are the cause of this. It is not that God does not wish to give us this joy, but the whole secret lies in our own simplicity and meekness. When simplicity is lacking and you say, ‘I’ll do this, that and the other, and God will give me what I ask for’, then nothing happens. Yes, indeed, I should do this, that and the other, but with such secrecy and such simplicity and such meekness, that even I who ask for the thing am unconscious of it.”

Our Lord’s second norm is: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth… but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Saint Maximus the Confessor teaches us to take heed to ourselves: “When you observe that your mind delights in material things, dwelling in their representations, be it known that you love these more than you love God.” Therefore, it is not the rich man who is displeasing to God, but rather the one who has cleaved his heart to riches. Let us recall the unmerciful rich man and poor Lazarus. Our riches can be our very life, while the poor man can be Christ Himself. What quality and quantity of life do we offer Christ? If only we would offer Him the crumbs from our table.

The third norm is: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). Father Arsenie Papacioc explains: “We cannot fulfill the Scripture with half-hearted measures. Our Lord and Savior wants us whole. Only satan cunningly wants only a tip of our finger, for the evil one knows that in this way, he can gain dominion over our entire being.” The Lord further how we enter the service of mammon: when we worry too much about material things (Matthew 6:25).

Especially in the modern context, it would be ideal if we understood the Lord’s words: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day are its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). These words are a cure for depression, which is so widespread in our times. If the Creator of the world tells us that sufficient for the day are its own troubles, then we should not weigh ourselves down with extra worries. Father Arsenie Papacioc explains very nicely: “We live the present. By living the present, we recover the past and conquer the future. We live the present moment; I don’t bear the worry of ‘what will I do tomorrow?’. If I live well today, then tomorrow the grace of God will be upon us. Today we lived well, and tomorrow we’ll live well again.” All excessive worrying crushes us and leads us into depression. Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica teaches: “Depression is the combination of thoughts. You combine the first with the second and the third… One thinks: this will happen, that will happen, but… in reality, nothing will happen. He only generates thoughts and entangles himself in them. He thinks that the fault for his ill disposition lies with someone else. […] He loads himself with thoughts that are not beneficial, because he cannot do anything. He can think about the good, but without God, he cannot perform the good. Our daily worries are sufficient.” We need to work for God without panicking or stressing out. Saint Gregory Nazianzus offers a piece of advice in the spirit of our Lord’s counsels: “The soul grows in likeness with the things that preoccupy it and is impressed with the actions it performs, taking on their image. Therefore, everything – including one’s appearance, clothing, walking, sitting, eating, standing, bed, home, and possessions – should be directed towards simplicity.”