Spinning Flowers and Anxiety

Lilies don’t spin. But what does that have to do with anything? I’ve read Matthew several times, but for some reason I’ve never pursued exactly what is meant when Jesus says that the lilies don’t “spin.”

Matthew 6:28–29 Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They neither labor nor spin, but I tell you not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these.

καταμάθετε τὰ κρίνα τοῦ ἀγροῦ πῶς αὐξάνουσιν· οὐ κοπιῶσιν οὐδὲ νήθουσιν· λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδὲ Σολομὼν ἐν πάσῃ τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ περιεβάλετο ὡς ἓν τούτων.

The word used for spin here is νήθω, which LSJ and BDAG gloss simply with “spin.” I gained a little insight this weekend concerning exactly what type of spinning Jesus is talking about. Greek Exodus uses the words νήθω, διανήθω, and κλώθω several times while laying out instructions for building the tabernacle (e.g., LXX Exodus 25:4; 26:1, 31, 36; 27:9, 16, 18; 28:6, 8, 15, 33). The people are to provide “spun linen,” “spun scarlet,” and the like.

When Jesus says the lilies do not labor or spin he means, perhaps by hendiadys, they do not labor to make clothes for themselves. They don’t worry about clothes yet they are more magnificently dressed than Solomon ever was.

I discussed this with some, like my wife, who immediately knew what was implied when Jesus said the “lilies don’t spin.” Others, like myself when reading this passage, had only envisioned something like a silly spinning flower you might see on a clown costume. We go to a store to pick up the clothes we need. I’m sure first century people more readily understood the connection been “spinning” and “making clothes.”

Disciples: Salt for Trampling (Matthew 5:13)

I’m reading Matthew 5:13 differently tonight. The UBS Greek New Testament groups Matthew 5:13-16 together under the heading “Salt and Light.” The NA27 does not group the verses together this way. It seems to me that verse 13 is as related to verses 11-12 as it is verses 14-16.

Explanation

Matthew 5:11-13

11 μακάριοί ἐστε ὅταν ὀνειδίσωσιν ὑμᾶς καὶ διώξωσιν καὶ εἴπωσιν πᾶν πονηρὸν καθʼ ὑμῶν [ψευδόμενοι] ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ. 12 χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε, ὅτι ὁ μισθὸς ὑμῶν πολὺς ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς· οὕτως γὰρ ἐδίωξαν τοὺς προφήτας τοὺς πρὸ ὑμῶν. 13 Ὑμεῖς ἐστε τὸ ἅλας τῆς γῆς· ἐὰν δὲ τὸ ἅλας μωρανθῇ, ἐν τίνι ἁλισθήσεται; εἰς οὐδὲν ἰσχύει ἔτι εἰ μὴ βληθὲν ἔξω καταπατεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

Verses 11-12, the last “beatitude,” say that when disciples of Jesus suffer persecution on account of him, they should consider themselves blessed because their reward is great in heaven.

In verse 13, Jesus says the disciples are the salt “of the earth.” In light of verses 11-12, perhaps we are to read “of the earth” as a genitive of possession or a “genitive which expresses relations merely external” (Robertson, Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p 234). That is, in the eyes of the world, disciples of Jesus still belong to the world. Yet, disciples, people who resemble the beatitudes of verses 3-12, have “lost their salt.” They no longer fit it. They’ve become “foolish” (μωρανθῇ). They are good for nothing but trampling (καταπατεῖσθαι), and should expect to be “cast out” (βληθὲν ἔξω).

In spite of the prospect of imminent suffering, Jesus calls for his disciples to let the light of their good deeds shine (verses 14-16) in order that they might turn people’s hearts away for the hopeless pattern of the world and toward their father in heaven.

Summary

In the past I’ve read verse 13 hand-in-hand with verse 14, as a call for disciples to “stay salty” and let their light shine. Tonight, I’m hearing it more in the context of the beatitudes. Here’s my paraphrase of the passage: The values of the kingdom of God (vv 3-12) are so different than those of the world that disciples of Jesus can expect to be “trampled under foot,” (v 13). To the world, they are nothing but useless salt. Nevertheless, good deeds done on behalf of Jesus (ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ) point beyond themselves. So, let your light shine (v 14-16).

Verse 13, with its theme of inevitable suffering and its metaphorical description of kingdom life, serves as a chain-link passage connecting the beatitudes to Jesus’s call for his disciples to be a testimony to hope.