2

In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), particularly in Matthew 6:25-34, why in addition to the very basic human need for food, drink, and clothing did Jesus not include the need for shelter?

The argument could be made that because Israel is in a subtropical climatic zone, shelter was simply not as necessary as it was and is today, particularly in the harsher and colder climatic zones, especially in the continental, polar, and alpine climates.

Jesus was certainly not opposed to the ownership of land and houses. We assume that Jesus grew up in a house, and the gifts of the Magi may very well have provided Joseph and Mary with funds with which to purchase a house.

Moreover, Jesus's life was made easier both before and during his public ministry by having a house in which to reside (see Matthew 2:11 and 4:13; Mark 2:1, 2:15, and 9:28; John 1:39 and 2:11). He also stayed frequently at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and he may have lived for a time with Simon Peter and Peter's wife and mother-in-law.

I find strange that Jesus did not include housing as one of the worries that plague humankind. Granted, there was a time in Jesus's public ministry when "the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20), but Jesus's nomadic lifestyle in the last three years of his life likely required pitching a tent or sleeping under the stars when no house was available.

Addendum:

The apostle Paul certainly faced privation. He had to forgo some basic necessities from time to time, such as food and shelter (see Philippians 4:10-12), clothing (see 2 Timothy 4:15), and safety and well being (his beatings, his shipwreck, and more). He still could say with complete confidence:

I can do all this through him who gives me strength(4:13).

Moreover, he could also to the Philippian believers with full confidence,

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus (4:19, with my bolding).

A small irony attaches to that verse since there are times when believers are called by God to be in need. In other words, one of our needs is to be in need. God sometimes teaches us and matures us through deprivation. The apostle Paul realized this, and while he enjoyed--I surmise--having plenty, he would accept living in want and be content either way.

2
  • 1
    Not even most modern people will put shelter as a high priority (focusing first on water and food) even though survival experts say that shelter is priority #1.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 19:35
  • What makes you think he should have, particularly in the climate of that place at that time? Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 23:05

5 Answers 5

20

Jesus is not giving a lecture on biology.

The point of what he says is that we should not worry - not describing what is necessary to life. His point can be made perfectly well without mentioning shelter. He also doesn't mention air, which is just as necessary to survival. His audience was quite capable of extrapolating from the things he says to include things he doesn't explicitly mention.

This is absolutely in keeping with the normal way of speaking and teaching in the day. Modern day speakers use similar approaches. Jesus' words here have been understood by billions of people without him needing to go into biological detail.

4
  • Thanks for the answer, DJ. I am not in full agreement with you, but you make some valid points. Jesus's sermon topics of food, drink, and clothing are the equivalent of today's preachers and teachers saying, "For example . . .." They do not supply an exhaustive (or even comprehensive) list of examples. Sometimes just one or two good examples suffice. Your point about "biological detail" sounds a little defensive, especially the comment about air being necessary for survival. I applaud your sticking up for Jesus, however (as I do). My question still remains. See my comments to Nigel J, below. Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 19:45
  • 4
    You seem to miss my point. Why didn't Jesus mention shelter? Because he didn't need to in order to make his point. Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 19:57
  • My comment about "one or two good examples suffice" shows that I did in fact get your point. I am, after all, a rhetorician who is more than a little familiar with the arts of public speaking, preaching, and teaching. There is the possibility that Jesus did in fact address the topic of shelter--and many other topics, for that matter, but Matthew, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, did not include it in his Gospel. That reminds me of John's comment: Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room . . .. Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 20:29
  • 2
    @rhetorician It's unclear what you find unsatisfactory about this answer.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 15:31
6

περιβάλλω 'cast around' ('clothed') see Strong 4016 has a broad meaning whose spectrum of concept is wide enough to encompass both the covering of 'clothing' and the covering of 'shelter'. The human body requires to be 'covered' but the degree of 'covering' depends on climate and circumstance.

Jesus' teaching in this place is profound and does not descend to practicalities or details. The concepts are as minimal as possible in order to focus on spiritual absolutes.

3
  • Thanks for your answer. I think, perhaps, you may have stretched the concept of "cast around" so wide that it snapped. I'm not saying there are not some bedrock truths in Jesus's teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. I'm also not saying that Jesus (and our heavenly Father) does not care about the very human need for shelter. As a 21st century Westerner, and having worked with and served many center-city homeless people, shelter (as well as food and clothing) are uppermost in their minds. I just spoke to a young man at church today who has been homeless for almost two years. He is overjoyed in Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 23:49
  • finding a place to live at very little cost to himself, at least for the next year. All over center city where my church has been for 250 years I see tents and encampments for the homeless. My city is not unique in that regard, of that I am sure. Not every church and not every Christian needs to minister to the homeless, but for those that do I'm sure God has a special reward. Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 23:58
  • 3
    @rhetorician: You overlooked the very salient point Nigel made: "depends on climate". He wasn't tailoring His sermon to the needs of your city in the west, which His audience would not know anything about.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 18:50
4

It only means that perhaps homelessness was not a common thing in ancient Israel. Jesus is sometimes wrongly depicted as homeless by some, when he was a travelling preacher. Homeless people may have existed, but very few.

The only thing to gather is that food and clothing were the main worries. In modern times, after the invention of fertlizers, there is unlimited and excess food, and overpopulation of humans due to scientific advancements may have increased homelessness.

It is important to remember that religious teachings concern about religion and spirituality, not sociology. The crux of Jesus's teaching is not to worry if you lack the things of need, but rather depend on God (Matt 6:25-34). Christianity does not force its adherents to eradicate poverty and homeless as though in the guise of the materialistic Marxist Socialism. It acknowledges poverty, sickness and suffering, yet reminds the justice and sovereignty of God.

The socialist spirit can produce social envy and hatred based on class differences. By contrast, the Christian fight pertains to spirit, not flesh. It teaches to focus on eternal life and greater things, refusing the comfort and necessities of this life, as being dead to the worldly possession and relations. Spiritual truths are greater than physical needs. That is the intended meaning here in this passage.

(NCB'19) 1 Corinthians 4:11-13:

“To this very hour, we endure hunger and thirst. We are poorly clad and beaten and homeless, and we exhaust ourselves working with our hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we suffer persecution, we endure it; when we are slandered, we respond gently. We are regarded as the rubbish of the world, the dregs of humanity, to this very day.”

1
1

Jesus did address the need for shelter in the Sermon on the Mount, just not in the passage that you cite. In fact, it is so important that the Lord saved it for last:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” - Matthew 7:24-27

In Jesus' teaching on worry, he makes a connection to Solomon:

28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. - Matthew 6:28-29

Of the books written by Solomon, Ecclesiastes is the most profound. After addressing many issues related to finding purpose in life and growing to maturity through the various times of life, Solomon devotes most of Ecclesiastes chapter 10 to an extended metaphor about the challenges of building a house, from hiring contractors, to clearing the site, digging a hole for the foundation, quarrying stone, cutting timbers, and making the roofing watertight.

Building a house is of course an analogy for building a family or a nation. The fact that Solomon is deeply concerned about home construction near the conclusion of his book shows that he worried about that topic deeply. So just as Solomon placed it near his conclusion, so Jesus addressed building a house - a life of faith or unbelief - at the end of his signature teaching.

0

The emphasis on food and clothing continues a theme that goes back to Genesis 3 and which is touched on at various points in the Scriptures:

  • At the fall of man, two of the immediate consequences are that man recognized that he was naked, and later had to work to obtain his sustenance. No other bodily needs are addressed. Prior to the fall, he had no need of clothing, and the food he needed was right there on a tree, free to be picked at any time.

  • As the Israelites wandered in the wilderness under Moses' leadership, God provided them manna and quail daily, and for the duration of those forty years their clothing did not wear out. Even their shoes went without need of repair.

  • The apostle writes, "And having food and raiment let us therewith be content."

Now going back to the Fall: In addition to the sudden need for food and clothing, man also came to need salvation from his sins. How this would come to pass is foretold at that time: The seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.

So when Jesus tells us that God will take care of our need for food and clothing, He also implies that God will take care of our sin problem as well.

If we will let Him.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.