Gospel of Matthew
According to Matthew 7:15, Jesus cautions us by saying, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.” Frankly, I did not realize that adage originated from the Gospels. Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Thinking about this phrase I have come to realize that Jesus is speaking not only to humanity in general, but directly to me! I need to be consistent in my love toward God and my fellow man in order to avoid turning into that same false prophet I am called to be on the look-out for.
Jesus spoke with such clarity and used tangible examples. I am not going to “reinvent the wheel” regarding today’s topic. During his Sermon on the Mount discourse in Matthew 5, the Good Teacher charged his followers to be the salt of the earth. Above there are two pictures: one is salt the other is sugar. At face value both appear to be indistinguishable—similar to a wolf donning lamb’s fleece is camouflaged from its prey. Salt and sugar play a significant part in our life. Both add flavor to otherwise dull food. Excessive amounts of sodium and sugar lead to health problems. What I want to focus on is the dichotomous relationship between salt and sugar? Am I the salt or sugar of the Earth? Let’s see!
1. To preserve or not to preserve…that is the question: Aside from flavoring bland dishes or enhancing taste in already good meals, the main purpose of salt is to preserve food against deterioration. Salt draws out excess water from foods and dehydrates it. This process allows for increased storage times—especially in cases where food is in abundance and needs to be saved for later periods. Jesus used the example of salt because of its universal application and practical usage in daily living. He calls Christians to act as theological relish and preservative to society. Sometimes a little salt goes a long way in improving the taste of food. We need not feel defeated if it feels like we are moving against a seeming endless tide of negativity from the world. Holiness is what all Christians are called to—look at the saints and the witness they provided a world in despair.
2. Deny Yourself and Follow Him: In high school, I took chemistry and became fascinated with the various atomic structures of elements, molecules, and compounds. I found a certain beauty in their ordering and design. Below are picture of the atomic structure of NaCL [sodium chloride- table salt] and C₆H₁₂O₆ [glucose- a common sugar].
From a microscopic vantage point, a clear distinction may be made between these two common household items. Both are composed of entirely different elements [hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen in Glucose] and [sodium and chloride in salt]. Along with the having different building materials, sugar and salt are fashioned with different types of bonds—covalent and ionic respectively. Covalent bonds are stronger because the shared electron is what keeps the elements held together whereas in an ionic bond one element loses an electron to another causing one element to become positively charged and the other to become negatively charged such as in the case of NaCl or table salt.
In other words, the elements in table salt lose an electron to effect the ionic charge of the sodium or chloride molecule. Initially, losing may be viewing negativity [no pun intended!]. One may think that due to the stronger nature of the covalent bond in sugar that it should be preferred to salt. The New Testament does shed some light on the reality of loss and rejection. Luke 9:23-25 turns this notion on its head when Jesus says, “Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily* and follow me. 24For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?'”
Christ’s words elicit a sense of paradox, yet allure within my mind. Interesting, I gain life when I serving other’s needs above my selfish desires. In my weakness I am stronger! Through a theological ionic bond, Christians act as holy seasoning to embolden our world.
3. Instant Gratification Leads to Decay: Dentists frighten me. Not in The Exorcist or The Shining sort of way. Still, I get apprehensive, anxious, and move toward hypochondriac-like behaviors when the subject of dentists come up. Perhaps, it stemmed from my penchant as a little kid for losing my teeth quickly and easily. Or maybe my periodontal panic happened due to my need for braces– not once, but twice in my elementary school years! Regardless of where this toothy torment began, I recognize that when I limit my sugar intake life is much easier during my semi-annual check-ups.
Excessive sugar proves damaging to both our physical and mental well-being. Unhealthy attraction to sugar is simply a euphemism for the sin of gluttony. Our society suffers from the belief that instant gratification is better than self-denial or self-control. I am as guilty of this vice as anyone. I have made it a point to limit my sugar consumption and practice fasting– to help me both spiritually and physically. I think Jesus choose not to use sugar as an example to relate to Christians because he understood the appeal and temptation this food item poses for humanity.
While sugar and salt look similiar in outward appearance the two are vastly different. How do we distinguish between the two? First, we learn to trust the authority of the manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of these products. We trust that the packaging is correct. When a box at the grocery store says “SUGAR” it really is sugar and not salt. A second way to learn is more difficult– through the school of experience. Maybe sugar is housed in a clear container in your home. If you forgot to label it only tasting the substance will you determine if it truly is sugar and not salt.
The same may be said about temptations and goods sent our way. Oftentimes, Satan dresses up sin as “sugar” to enhance its allure. This makes is easier to fell prey to his trap. Our adversary disguised sin under the costume of a juicy fruit– see Genesis 3 for the story of the Fall. May we continue to rely on the tradition of the Catholic Church, Sacred Scriptures, and testament of the saints for guidance in our journey toward holiness. Let us be the salt of the Earth and preserve society! There is more to you than meets the eye.
Throughout the Bible the phrase “Do not be afraid” is invoked over 300 times. In fact, the first mention of fear in the Bible is in reference to Adam and Eve hiding for fear of disobeying God for eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Fear, worry, and anxiety are feelings that are at the center of the human condition. The reality of sin—otherwise known as the separation from God—is the number one cause for humanity to fear and worry. As a broken and fallen man, I struggle with worry constantly both in large and trivial matters. Changes at my workplace leads to anxiety on my part and past suffering such as the loss of my unborn child are a couple of the various things I worry about. Even this morning, I got anxious about what topic I should write about today.
Oddly almost immediately after my worrisome thoughts are lacking a subject to write about, my eyes noticed a bible verse I have posted on my cubicle wall. Matthew 6:25-34. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit granted me the gift of knowledge and understanding and shed light on my situation. I thought, “Matt why don’t you write about the subject of worry and God’s answer?!” Here I provide four reasons why Matthew 6:25-34 is the most relatable bible passage for me personally.
- My personal anxiety: For most of my life I have struggled with anxiety and stress. It got so bad in high school that I went to see a counselor for a couple of years. I got it under control better in college but a couple years ago anxiety struck again—after losing my job, suffering a miscarriage, and stresses of adjustment to a new house and city—and attacked me. I have since been on the road to recovery in large part to the sacrament of marriage [my wife’s patience is awesome!] and a discipleship group at church has helped as well. A few weeks ago, I printed off Matthew 6:25-34 and posted on my cubicle wall to remind me that God is in charge. Jesus remind me, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? 27Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? (Matthew 6:25-27).”
- My Children: When I lost my job I seriously begin to doubt the providence of God and I worried about the very thing Jesus tells us not to worry about above—feeding my children. God provided me with a job that is less stressful that my previous job and allows for excellent flexible options for me to take time off in case my children get sick. Why was I anxious about food and paying the bills? Failure to trust and fear caused by sin. Once again the sacramental graces God poured out to me through my marriage helped me out!
- Timeless Message: Several passages in the bible sound anachronistic—out of place and outdated. Not so for Matthew 6:24-35. Jesus’ words relayed by the evangelist contain a message that will never age! Finding adequate shelter, food, and clothing will always be relevant for the human race despite the leaps and bounds we have made technologically. That is the genius of the Gospel to stay relevant across centuries and centuries!
- Birds of a Feather: Living in the Midwest of the United States of America, I see tons of birds in my yard and throughout the city. Robins, crows, and sparrows. Some bible versions translate birds as sparrows. Whether this is the most literal translation is debatable; however, I associate with this passage even more when the word “sparrows” are used. Jesus says, “Look at the birds [sparrows] in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? 27Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? (Matthew 6:26-27).” I notice animals around my neighbor on a daily basis and they eat on a daily basis. God loves humans immensely more. Do not worry!
Each spring a sparrow tries to build its nest in our garage. Jesus’ words always come to mind in those I notice twigs and straw hanging from the rafters left by my aviary associate. “Look at the birds [sparrows] in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?” Yes…He does provide.