“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
This morning Jesus is inviting you to give up worrying and share in his happiness. At first glance this gospel reading is difficult to understand. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” Yet who among us can avoid being concerned with putting food on the table unless they want to starve? It is a difficult passage but the verse just before it provides a helpful interpretive key: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.”
“Mammon” here is wealth personified. In other words, you cannot be devoted both to God and to the pursuit of worldly wealth and comfort. You cannot have two ultimate goods, or two final goals, for you cannot travel in two directions at once. Therefore, says Jesus, devote yourselves entirely to God, the fount of all goodness and life. Serve God with your whole heart and you will come to understand everything else rightly in relation to him.
“Do not worry about your life,” Jesus says. What does it mean to worry about your life? It means to think that you are self-sufficient and that your life has meaning only insofar as you are useful and able to decisively secure a future for yourself. I think what Jesus is doing here is exposing the frailty of this way of thinking. You’ve heard the saying, “life is what you make it.” It’s as if Jesus is saying, “life is more than what you make it.” Therefore, give up worrying about securing your own life and share in the happiness of the One who is the source of life.
And so Jesus himself is quick to include those whose lives do not appear to be “useful” or “meaningful”: the poor, the sick, children, the elderly. Those whom the world pushes out because their lives are not sexy enough, or strong enough, or moral enough Jesus gathers in. So, as the Church, we should always be looking around and asking ourselves: who is falling through the cracks here? Who is the world discarding?
In our culture creating a meaningful life and securing your future is generally attached to material things. We possess some things but we fear losing them so we work more to gain more, to achieve more. To have something to point at and say, “Look, my life is worth this much!” And we accept this as inevitable. Yet cracks have been evident for some time now. For example, we know that modern economies are creating people that are increasingly distressed, lonely, and isolated from one another. But what if this isn’t inevitable?
“Do not worry about your life…Consider 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?” Jesus is inviting you to quit worrying about your life and to consider how God the Father provides for and sustains the life of all things. The birds of the air, the flowers of the field, the bees of the hive, they do not worry, they are not anxious, they simply are, they simply receive life as gift.
Some of us need to take some time each day to consider. Some of us need to wake up each morning and before we complain we need to consider. Some of us need to stop for a moment and before we cave-in we need to consider. Some of us need to quit thinking that everything is just one big coincidence and consider.
Consider that life is a gift. You did not make it. You did not work for it. You simply are because God is. God the Father is the source and sustainer of life. He cares for the flowers and the birds. How much more does your heavenly Father care for you?
Now this doesn’t mean that we get through life unscathed. We fall sick. We lose our job. And we will, each one of us, die. We are mortal. But to consider the giftedness of life is an invitation to trust God in his goodness.
I think of my own children who spend a total of zero minutes in the day worrying about their life. It is the job of the parents to be concerned with putting food on the table and clothes on little bodies. Children, meanwhile, play and laugh and concern themselves with much more important things such as joy and wonder and exploration.
But sometime between childhood and adulthood our view of the world begins to shift. It ceases to be a place of abundance and wonder and becomes a place of scarcity and anxiety. One of the things that Jesus wants to do is help us recover a sense of the giftedness of the world and a strong and lively sense of the goodness of our heavenly Father, the creator of the world. Perhaps this is in part what Jesus means when he encourages us to come to him as little children. Jesus is inviting you to give up worrying and share in his happiness.
Rather than frantically and anxiously trying to add to or secure our lives by pursuing material wealth Jesus invites us to concern ourselves with a greater matter: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” We might translate this, “Be seeking first,” to highlight the fact that this is an ongoing commitment, a life that is devoted anew each day to God.
So, it’s not as if followers of Jesus are simply to live unconcerned about anything at all. Rather, we are invited to have our lives re-oriented so that we concern ourselves daily with that which is ultimate: Do I have a sense of the giftedness of the world? Does God have my whole heart? Am I growing in holiness? Am I open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Who can I be praying for more diligently?
This morning Jesus is inviting you to give up worrying and share in his happiness. He is inviting you to orient your life towards God, your heavenly Father, and make him your first priority. To be thankful and generous and full of the joy of the Holy Spirit knowing that God cares for you and keeps you now and always.