“25 Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his own span of life?
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. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all shall be yours as well.
34 Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.”
Jesus has been teaching His listeners about the uselessness of treasuring to themselves anything besides God Himself and all that He offers us. This section, beginning with the word “Therefore” would appear to be a conclusion to that teaching.
The main point that Jesus is making in this section is “do not be anxious.” He gives several reasons why we should not be anxious, which we will consider in a moment. First we want to consider the connection between this section and the previous one. In what way is this a conclusion? What is the connection that Jesus sees between treasuring to oneself God or mammon, and being anxious?
Jesus has just illustrated, in several ways, the barrenness, the impossibility of being able to put both God and others, or earthly treasures at the center of your life. Since this is not possible, Jesus tells His listeners, “do not be anxious.” It seems to me that the connection is that anxiety is what underlies our efforts to treasure to ourselves earthly treasures, and our trying to serve both God and mammon.
Jesus’ listeners knew they lived in an insecure world. Most of them had only the bare essentials of life, and all of them were dependent on the weather and the soil for the crops that were needed to sustain them. They were keenly aware of this dependence, as were the pagans around them, who worshipped the sun, the rain, and the rivers in hopes of securing a good harvest each year.
It was this insecurity that led people to be anxious. What if there isn’t enough rain this year? What if the crops are diseased? What if I cannot provide food for my family? There were no guarantees in life and people were painfully reminded of that fact all the time. This anxiety tempted many of Jesus’ listeners to try to serve mammon as well as God. Mammon is concrete, wealth can be seen and used here. So it seems to offer a security against the capriciousness of life. When one considers the anxiety produced by living in a inconstant world, it is easy to understand the drive to treasure to oneself the treasures on earth.
This is why Jesus now turns to the underlying issue of anxiety. He knows why the people are tempted by the appearance of security that accumulated wealth seems to offer. Jesus makes several points to help His listeners, and us, to combat the temptation to live out of anxiety. First Jesus asks His listeners to consider the truth that life is more than just food and clothing. By asking the question, Jesus is trying to get them, and us, to stop in our tracks and consider just what life is about. In our anxiety to obtain even basic things for ourselves, aren’t we beginning to live as if this is all that life is about, that this is the deepest and truest thing about life? And it seems to me that the implication of this question is that if we have reduced our lives to the accumulation of stuff, even basic stuff, then we are missing out on life in its deeper, truer sense.
Now Jesus turns to the birds and the flowers and, in doing so, begins to deal with the deepest answer that He gives to our anxiety: the character of our heavenly Father. Jesus asks His listeners to look at the birds. They do not work for their food by sowing or reaping or by storing some away for the future. Yet they are still fed. How? Jesus says that it is “your” heavenly Father that feeds them. Notice that He doesn’t say “their”, i.e. the birds’, Father, but “your,” His listeners’, our, Father. Our Father, Jesus says, is the One who sustains and takes care of His creation. Jesus tells us that God, our Father, has a direct interest in, and takes direct action in the lives of the creatures He has made. He doesn’t just provide food for them to find. Jesus says that our Father’s involvement with His creation is so intimate that He can be said to be actively feeding the birds.
God is not aloof and uninvolved in His world, as we may be tempted to believe. If the birds of the air are fed, it is not an accident or a fortunate outcome of a diestic being who made a world that could run on its own. If the birds are fed, it is because our heavenly Father feeds them. In His second comparison, when He is dealing with our anxiety about clothing, Jesus includes even the grasses of the fields as being within the scope of God’s direct care and gracious and creative oversight. Even though they are “thrown into the oven” tomorrow, our heavenly Father “clothes” them.
The point Jesus is making is that if our Father is this involved and good to the rest of His creation, then how much more will He be involved with us, who are His children. He concludes His comments on the birds with “Are you not of more value than they?” And His question to His hearers after speaking of the grasses of the field is: “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?” Jesus then repeats His command to not be anxious, this time detailing what we should not be anxious about--our food, drink, and clothing. He grounds this command clearly in the loving, involved, and good character of our heavenly Father. The reason we are not to be anxious is because we are not alone or abandoned in the world. Rather, we are children of a watchful and active Father.
In between His teaching on the birds and the grasses, Jesus makes a point about the uselessness of our anxiety. He asks, “And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his own span of life?” This is a rhetorical question. Jesus is reminding them of something that they should already know. The truth is that we are not able, by our anxiety, to add to our own span of life. Our stress over our physical well being, our security on this earth, does not have the power to prolong our life.
After emphasizing to His listeners the fact that they are truly children of their gracious heavenly Father, Jesus now draws their attention for a moment to the Gentiles. These people did not know God as their loving Father. They did not know of His direct care for all of His creation. And they were anxiously seeking after their food, clothing, etc. By mentioning the Gentiles Jesus is making the point that when His listeners are anxious about their physical needs, their security, then they were living as if they were pagans. They were living as if they did not have a heavenly Father or, if they did, He was distant and unaware of His children and their needs.
Now Jesus gives His positive command; His answer to what we are to do instead of being anxious. He tells His audience that they are to seek first the kingdom, and that, in doing so, their secondary needs, like food and clothing will be taken care of. So what does it mean to seek God’s kingdom? Well, from the context, seeking the kingdom has to mean living as if you are a loved child of an active, good, and gracious Father. The kingdom, as we have seen earlier in this sermon, is where God’s good, life-giving will is done, where the character of this loving, just, Father is fully known and enjoyed. We are to live as if we are the children of this God, and that He is actively present. When we participate in His will out of hope and trust, we are seeking the kingdom.
What does Jesus mean when He says “and all shall be yours as well”? Does He mean that this is some sort of contract? That if we seek His kingdom first, He will reward us by giving us everything we need in this world? Could the people listening to Him expect that if they sought Him first, they would no longer be vulnerable to the need for rainfall and good sun for their crops? This is a difficult passage, and I think that we are tempted to understand it that way. But I don’t think that Jesus is saying that we shouldn’t be anxious because God is willing to help us out, but only if and when we seek Him first. If He was, He wouldn’t go on to mention the troubles that we will have today. To think Jesus is offering us a conditional contract to get God’s blessings is to misunderstand what it means to seek the kingdom, and why Jesus told us about His Father’s care for the birds and the grass.
We are tempted to think that there are some things that are outside of our faith. Like food, drink and clothing. We need these things to live, and so we must work to have them. Because our world is capricious, unpredictable, and because we think there is only so much stuff out there, we are very tempted to become anxious and to feel that we are thrown back on ourselves to make sure that we are secure. We compete with each other, fighting to make sure we get “our piece of the pie.” We think God made the earth, the food, etc., but is distant and doesn’t really see each of us individually, isn’t directly active in such things as our financial situation. So, we act as if we are unseen and unknown by the Father we “believe” in.
Jesus assures His listeners, and us, that this is not the case. The “all” that shall be yours as well is yours because all these things are God’s. Our lives are truly in His hands, and in seeking to live in, abide in, Him we can trust that He remains our caring, active Father. It isn’t that we are now guaranteed that we will never be in want or without worldy financial security because we are Christians. What this means is that our rock solid, true security is not in our circumstances, but in our heavenly Father. Our security is not in our ability to get and keep a good job, or obtain food and clothing for ourselves. When we lose our jobs, or face uncertainty about our present or future needs, even basic bodily needs, we continue to seek the kingdom because our security, the reality of where we really go to receive what we need, hasn’t changed. So seeking the kingdom means continually going to our triune God to receive from Him what He has for us, whether we receive something through currently having a job or not. And in trusting that we truly are dependent on Him, we are freed to participate in what He is doing in this world to have His good will done here “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus concludes this teaching by telling His listeners not to be anxious about tomorrow. We are to focus only on the actual troubles that we face today rather than worrying over possibilities for the future. He connects this command with the previous statement with the word “therefore.” Since we can trust that in seeking the kingdom of our Father we will be receiving continually His care, we are freed to live in the present moment and leave the future in His hands.
I want to make a couple more points in closing. First of all, it is wonderful to realize that the God who made us is a Father who desires that we not be anxious. His primary concern for His human creation is that we live as children who are beloved and cared for, moment by moment, by our heavenly Father. When we are tempted to be anxious, and certainly the world wants us to be anxious, we need to remember that that is not coming from God. He is truly a loving Father who seeks to have His children know who He is and that we can find our secure home in Him.
Secondly, trusting in God and not being anxious are not automatic things and Jesus knows that. He is speaking to a Jewish audience--people who knew who God was and how He had provided for them. But their present circumstances, which included being under Roman rule, tempted them to forget what they knew about God. So Jesus reminds them about the character of their Father. It wasn’t going to do any good just to bark the command at them to not be anxious. Jesus shows us that God wants to feed our faith in Him so that we no longer feel a need to be anxious. He reminds us of the good character of our Father so that we can respond by placing ourselves back in His hands. We need to hear this word again and again, in the midst of the cacophony of voices that tempt us towards anxiety. I hope that today this word reminds you of the truth, and allows you to rest in Him.
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