What do you worry about?
When my youngest daughter went to Africa for her gap year to support a hospital there, there was a great scandal going on. Some money which had come from painstaking fund raising in the West had been spent not on medical equipment (as was intended by the donors) but on food for the hospital staff.
I think it is difficult for us to imagine what it must be like to live in a place where the cultural expectation is to be hungry so that the highest priority of your life is always getting more than enough food for your family, so that you will compromise every other standard to get there: that it just trumps…..everything. But often what we worry about goes beyond what we need. Perhaps it was the same for people in the first century.
What about clothing? Clothing, of course, covers modesty, but also says so much about who we are; our status. At one end of the scale, in the first century, the poor might worry about whether they had a cloak to make the difference between a freezing night and a very cold one, In a place where many might sleep outside at night. A clearer case of need, one could not find. But at the other end of the scale the Pharisees took a close interest in dressing precisely as the Torah (the Jewish Old Testament and Laws) commanded. The aim was to show how righteous they were. And the ruling class as well wanted to dress as befitted their status In the hierarchy; so that people could see how important they were. These were not trivial issues for people In the first century: they set their priorities; but we’re they their needs? Even if they weren’t, you could say these priorities showed the main theme running through their lives. These things determined the decisions they took. They defined who they were. They were bound to worry about them.
But Jesus said to them ‘don’t worry about these things’
What sets our priorities? Do our priorities go beyond our needs?
Perhaps in England we don’t worry about what we will eat, as people did in the first century, but maybe we do worry about how we will pay our bills. Perhaps we live in a house which we recognise is bigger than we need. But our home says something about who we are….about our family. And it’s standing in the community.
Jesus says to us too ‘Don’t worry about such things…’
Perhaps we don’t worry about what clothes we will wear, as people did in the first century, but we do worry about whether we can maintain a standard of living which fits our family background; which fits who we perceive that we are.
For example, we might be someone who promotes the success of our children to achieve more than we did ourselves, even though this might involve almost bankrupting ourselves to pay school fees or to pay for yet another after school club for our children. Or we might make membership of golf and tennis clubs a priority for ourselves, so that people….our contemporaries and our relations see us as ‘successful’, in the way we define success; as we want to be seen; even though we can’t really afford it.
Jesus says to us don’t worry about such things.
But we might respond ‘But we do worry!’ How can we stop worrying? These things are really important to us. Is Jesus being like the annoying uncle with whom we might have had a conversation over Christmas who says to anything we are concerned about ‘Oh I wouldn’t worry about that’ But I am worried about that!
No, Jesus is being much more challenging than that. Jesus is saying if it goes beyond our basic needs, what we worry about show us, what we are living for….What we worry about shows us what we are living for. He is saying that the Father knows that we need the basics of life: Food and clothes: like the birds of the air; like the lilies of the field, God provides what they need…and he will for us.
Today, (In our society) of course we need somewhere to live; of course we need education for our children; but the trouble is when the common thread which runs through our lives, the theme of our lives, is about seeking more of these things than we need. When we are philosophically storing up In barns more than we need because we are seeking to impress others not simply because we actually need them. When the comon theme of our lives, the plot line which runs through the daily drama of our lives, which links each episode together, is that we are striving for more of these things than we need.
We should not, Jesus insists. We should instead be striving for the Kingdom of God.
But How do we know when we are striving for these less important things and not for the Kingdom of God?
We know when there’s strife!
Striving for the wrong things necessarily involves strife with other people!
It means that we put these less important things ahead of our relationships with people: Any people we come into contact with. And as followers of Christ we must not do this.
An example: Everyone knows that parents In Itchen Valley can be a bit…..pushy….promoting their children’s interests. We or I….. was no exception. I can remember with shame having seen, what I thought at the time, as a terrible miscarriage of justice, when my youngest daughter was disqualified from a swimming race at the annual primary school swimming gala when I could see (and had photographic evidence actually) that both her hands had touched the end of the pool….
I remonstrated with the Head, rather too energetically…..
Now he knew that I was a Christian, but, thank goodness, I had not got onto the path of ordination at that stage, but did my remonstrating with him advance the Kingdom of God, as it could easily have done, if I had been gracious with him about this problem? Would he have been persuaded by my actual behaviour that the gospel was true? NO of course not!
He might quite reasonably have thought, like Ghandi, who apparently, in explaining why he was not a Christian, said ‘I like your Christ but not your Christians….’
My worry about my daughter being treated fairly, the priority that I gave promoting her interests, had trumped my wish to be seen by him as a good witness of Christ, my striving for her had produced strife with another.
But Jesus says we must strive first for his kingdom and his righteousness and all these other things, all the other things that we need will be given to us also
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 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? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 6:25–34). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.