“This is why I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”
How many sermons have been preached from this text which offered as its primary meaning that we shouldn’t worry — and then went on to list all the situations in which we, middle-class America, tend to worry? I honestly don’t know what “we” worry about, but I bet at least half the list can be summed up like this:
- Money to pay off our many debts, most of which came from making ourselves comfortable and ensuring we wear clothes, drive cars, and sleep in houses that are at the same level as those around us.
- If not money to pay off debts, we worry about money to set aside for our futures, to guarantee we can always live at [at least] the same level we currently enjoy.
I’m sure there are some deeper matters with which we’re concerned, but it seems money usually both tops the list and contributes to much of what is on the list.
But I think we’ve misunderstood this passage… on several levels:
The “do not worry” text immediately follows Jesus’ words not to store up treasures on earth, but rather in heaven. He’s just explained the impossible nature of serving two masters — God and money. Only after this teaching does he offer these words: “THIS is why I tell you, do not worry….” Our passage about not worrying can only be properly understood in light of the passage about not storing up wealth and serving money as god. But we seem intent on using Jesus’ words “do not worry” to excuse our storing up of wealth — saying we simply shouldn’t be anxious about it, because God is going to take care of those things. But Jesus isn’t promising in this text to send our kids to college, and he’s for sure not promising to help us pay off our expensive wardrobes and addictions to Starbucks.
Jesus is speaking here to the necessities of life: whether or not we’ll have food to eat, water to drink, and clothes to wear. First, I think he’s promising God will take care of the Christian’s most basic needs (and that God knows these needs better than we do). And secondly, he’s saying it’s not our responsibility to store away in barns for our futures. The point of the text is that we shouldn’t bank away wealth for our futures or be anxious about our fundamental needs.
When’s the last time your anxieties were about whether or not you’d starve? What about whether or not you’d have to go naked? We’re not talking about if you’d have the cash to eat at your favorite restaurant (mine… Conestoga in Dothan, AL) or whether your favorite jeans (mine… used Levi’s from the clothing market in Geita) would be clean in time to wear them to church on Wednesday night.
Here’s what I know for sure from this text:
I’m not supposed to store up wealth for my future. And I’m not supposed to worry about my basic needs, because God will take care of them.
And this is what I’m not positive about, but am leaning towards:
Should those of us who are never hungry or thirsty be reading this text differently? As a part of the body of Christ who doesn’t worry about basic needs, should I be reading this text as someone called to meet these needs for others? Instead of trying to understand this text as a call not to worry about my own life, should I be understanding it as an opportunity to allow God to keep his promises to others through me? Should I, as a member of God’s family, be making sure those who are seeking his kingdom and righteousness don’t have to be concerned about food and clothing? Rather than stashing my money away in a bank or a barn, should I be using it to feed the hungry and clothe the naked?
I think that’s how middle-class America is supposed to read this text.