Are you like a monkey?
I don’t mean that you look like a monkey. But do you act like a monkey? Do you live life like a monkey.
Are you trapped by your own greed in a lifestyle from which you cannot escape? Or if not greed, then is there something else in your life that has trapped you.
We’ll return to monkeys in a moment.
Here are two types of person. Which one are you more like?
You are a good Christian, a faithful husband, a loving father, a diligent employee, and a loyal son. But sometimes you get angry. There is a big project at work. It is going to affect your career, which means it is going to affect how much money you can earn. And that means how well you can take care of your family and provide for them.
At the same time your conscience is pushing you to be more committed to church and God’s work, your wife wants to see more of you than the current half an hour before midnight. Your kids don’t like you going to work on the weekends because they want to play with you, and they don’t understand that you are doing this for them.
If you are person one; You get angry because God is demanding time from you that you don’t have. God is asking too much. You’d like to be more involved, but you this is just too important. So you get angry at God. And in fact you decide to give up on him until you have more time.
If you are person two; You get angry because work is demanding time from you that you don’t have. Work is asking too much. You’d like to be promoted and earn more, but God is just too important. So you get angry at your employer. And in fact you decide to give up on him until you have more time.
Basically, in both cases we are getting angry because we want it all and our life won’t let us have it all. If that is you then you are like a monkey and you are trapped. Watch this video and see what I mean.
Jesus teaches us that we cannot have it all, and we shouldn’t want it all.
In the Sermon on the Mount there are a series of sayings in the pattern ‘You have heard … but I say’. These are in Matthew chapter five.
There is another pattern in chapter six that goes like this. ‘When you … don’t do … but instead do… .’ In Matthew 6:5, for example, Jesus tells us:
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”
This is a series of examples of spiritual practice. In this example the spiritual practice is prayer. Jesus says basically, this is the spiritual practice, this is the wrong way to do it and here is the correct way to do it. In addition to prayer he mentions giving to the poor as a spiritual practice, and fasting as a spiritual practice.
Let’s give you a practical example or two. I can climb six flights of stairs to walk up to this room, but I can’t climb the Eiger mountain in Switzerland. I can run slowly for a short distance, but I’m not fit and I haven’t had any practise so if I tried to run a marathon tomorrow you would be at my funeral on Tuesday. At the very least I would crash out with severe heart palpitations, cramps and multiple blisters.
Even if you are trained and you can climb the Eiger in Switzerland, how long would it take you? The normal time to climb the challenging North Face of the Eiger is three days, but one man has done it in less than three hours. Hold on to your chairs and watch this short video of Ueli Steck climbing the North Face of the Eiger in 2 hours and 47 minutes.
But what Jesus is saying here is not just that we need practise, but that we need correct practise. To run a marathon or climb the Eiger, you need an expert to train you in the right way. In spiritual practice that expert is Jesus.
Jesus says that the Pharisees and the Scribes did a lot of practice but that it did them no good. They were building up wrong habits and learning corrupt lifestyles.
Jesus is clearly pointing us to a central truth. The important life is the hidden life, and the outward things like new clothes or being seen to be fasting seriously and praying eloquently are worthless.
Being righteous is not an absence of doing wrong. It is a positive action. That is why Jesus lists giving to the poor as a spiritual practice.
You cannot serve two masters. If you serve the master of money you will soon resent God for telling you to give it away. If you serve God then you will start to resent money for the way it infiltrates all parts of your life and tries to enslave you.
The people of Israel thought that the Messiah was coming to overthrow the tyranny of Rome and to liberate the Holy Land from occupation. They expected a military leader as the king, a man who would lead them in rebellion. They got a carpenter’s son who talked about peace.
Jesus came to overthrow a different tyranny, to replace a different occupier.
It is not Caesar who truly occupies the hearts and minds of the chosen people. It is Satan, with his three strongholds of power, sex and money.
Jesus is proclaiming a rebellion against these three forces, against these three powers of darkness.
First against money, greed and selfishness by a liberating generosity toward the poor.
Second against sex and all the other dominating influences for gratification of the physical nature by fasting.
Third against the prideful pursuit of power through the practice of prayer with forgiveness and reconciliation.
These three are all private practices. Even though they have a huge outward effect, they are rooted in our attitudes and our secret spiritual lifestyles.
When we live for these wrong things – sex, money or power – we always experience anxiety. And that is what Jesus addresses next. Look at verse 28. He says we should look around ourselves at the creation and how he takes care of it. Doesn’t he loves us even more and won’t he take even better care of us?
And then when we learn to do this, to live as Jesus lived, we are free to focus all of our efforts, all of our thoughts, all of our hearts, on what really matters.
So what does really matter in life? What is more important than all these things.
Look at what Jesus says in these verses. He tells us in verse 33 that what is most important in all our life is to seek the Kingdom of God. Seek the Kingdom of God over and above and before everything else. Not alone, but all together as family.
You have to make seeking the Kingdom of God the top priority in all of your life – in all of your relationships, and in all of your thoughts and all of your deeds.