“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.”
(Matthew 6:25–29 NRSV)
We have a tendency when we hear Jesus’ teachings to do one of two things:
- We Over-Spiritualize what he says and take it extremely literally.
So if I am in this camp and I read this text then quite honestly it becomes an excuse to be irresponsible, “Hey, I know we don’t have enough to take care of the bills, but we always squeak through some way. I know we don’t really have the money for it but doesn’t it say that God takes care of us, let’s just do it and trust that God will helps us out.”
- In this mode, our daily life, our bills, all become about God exercising magic over us.
- A check shows up in the mail and it was God.
- My checkbook is balanced for the first time in a year, and it is God.
We attribute generosity or we direct blame at God depending on how things are working for us. This view removes our own agency and choices in the matter.
- The exact opposite option of this which is also popular, it proclaims that Jesus’ teachings have are so outdated and Irrelevant that we cannot, shouldn’t allow these teachings to effect our real lives.
- In other words, Jesus is a naive peasant who clearly was of a different time and age, and his teachings have NOTHING to do with us now. They are clearly irrelevant in this age of Wall-Street & Wal-Mart.
- Jesus couldn’t possible know what the heck he was talking about when it comes to economics in 2014.
- What matters most is how hard you work. Nothing is given, nothing is a gift, nothing is free, if it’s too good to be true then you better believe that it is. You don’t work you don’t eat. This is the American Dream. This is a capitalist world. Jesus needs to update his theory.
So in other words, there’s another split here, just like last week: the over-spiritualized version & the “functional atheist” version.
On the one hand you have a theology that leans towards “pie in the sky” irresponsibility, it sounds full of faith but it’s irresponsible and doesn’t encourage or nurture any good reasons to carefully steward what we have.
On the other hand, the functional atheist version, pays lip service to God while living a life that reveals we really don’t believe that Jesus’ teachings have any effect on our lives.
Both of these are in a way a response to worry. We read “do not worry” and tend to stop there, as if what the passage is really about is getting you to get rid of worry. So on the one hand, we get rid of worry by letting go of all responsibility and on the other hand we get rid of worry by trying to take matters into our own hands.
Death by Bread and Clothes Alone
Instead of giving us some really complex economic theory about taxation, and how to grow your business, your investments, and pay off your college loans, he points us to to the birds of the air and lilies of the field.
For Jesus, creation is imprinted with the good news of liberation. It reveals the intention of life. The answer to our questions about our relationships to our material and immaterial belongings lies within the simplicity of birds and lilies.
What do the birds and lilies do? What do they put their energy into? Worrying about bread and clothes?
“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.” (Matthew 6:26–29 NRSV)
Joel Bock helped me see this week that the birds of the air and the lilies of the valley don’t get anxious about bread and clothing, their work is being themselves.
In their extreme simplicity, both birds and lilies put all of their energy into being birds and lilies.
This is in contrast to those of us who spend our efforts and all of our energy on trying to be someone else.
Isn’t there some truth in this for all of us as well? How many of you have wished you were someone else? Wished you lived, looked liked, had resources like, was successful like, someone other than yourself?
It’s like the birds wishing they were lilies, and the lilies wishing they were birds.
The “be someone else” dialogue is really strong and destructive. Think of these examples:
You work really hard because you are afraid that if you fail people will see that you are really not good enough.
You believe the only way God will accept you is if you can “be someone else.” This is because you have been taught from a very young age that God is unhappy with you, that God does not approve of you, and that the very essence of who you are is bad and untrustworthy.
Or maybe this isn’t really about God, and the disapproval comes from your family of origin.
You’ve never been good enough for mom or dad. No matter how hard you try, you feel like you cannot match up.
So you pile stuff into your life bread and clothes and other material belongings -bigger and more expensive things – and you try to pile on the immaterial achievements – all geared at proving to God, to your family and even to your self that you should be accepted.
And then Jesus says,
“shh…stop with the worrying, look at birds of the air and the lilies of the field, in their extravagant simplicity, they are who they are. Nothing more and nothing less. And I care for them just as they are.”
What I think he is saying is “stop being so anxious about how you can get to ‘be someone else, there is no shame in who you are.”
I think in part, Jesus is trying to break the cycle of getting caught up in trying to secure our identities in external things. He wants you to realize, that just like the birds and lilies, there is no shame in who you are.
- There’s no shame in your limitations.
- There’s no shame in your brokenness.
- There’s no shame in your failures.
The shame comes when our energy, all of our effort and life is directed towards “being someone else.”
This is what Dorothee Soelle calls “Death by Bread Alone.”
Because we live for bread alone, we die by bread alone. Death by bread alone is not a natural death. It is a violent death, one that is imposed upon us by the structures of violence that rule this world. We willingly accept this state of affairs. And when the truth is told, we even prefer being dead to taking the kind of risks involved with being alive. -DS
If you take a step back and look at your life – Do “we even prefer being dead to taking the kind of risks involved with being alive?”
I hear in this passage a call to be alive. A call to be your truest self apart from all the external trappings of a “good life” and to stop worry so much about how you stack up in the eyes of others.
Here is a mediation from Anthony De Mello that can help us think in this direction:
I’ve often said to people that the way to really live is to die. The passport to living is to imagine yourself in your grave. Imagine you’re lying in your coffin. Any posture you like. In india we put them in cross-legged. Sometimes they’re carried that way to the burning ground. Sometimes, they’re lying flat. So imagine you’re lying flat and you’re dead. Now look at your life. Now look at your problems from that viewpoint?
Where is your energy focused? What are you worried about? Does looking at it this way change how you feel about your worries?
If You’re Going to Worry, Worry About Love
I like to workout at the local community center, and if you’ve ever been there, there are signs everywhere, in the parking lot and all over the locker rooms, etc. that say “don’t leave you stuff in unlocked lockers or cars because you will get robbed!” And then the other day there was a sign in the locker room that said, “just the other day someone was robbed.”
So I’ve got rather paranoid about the whole thing, I mean there would be nothing worse then someone else wondering around Vancouver wearing my underwear! My solution has been to carrying my stuff with me all over the gym while I work out. Which gets to be rather inconvenient and distracting. It means there are certain things I really can’t do because I have to carry a bad with me. And it means that I’m constantly watching my bag. So my attention is constantly divided towards my workout and where is my bag?
Then the other day, Emily pointed out to me there are cubbies up in the exercise room where you can set your stuff in full view of everyone. Once I found that I have been able to relax and focus on my workout a lot more.
I believe anxiety in our passage works a lot like this gym bag of mine. As long as I am carrying the gym bag around me, I can never fully focus on the work right in front of me – in this case, to get a good workout in. It Anxiety can cause us to have a divided attention towards something that ultimately distracts from a deeper sense of identity.
My friend Rhett Smith, writes in his book “The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good?” argues that Anxiety in the greek has a double-meaning – “unduly concerned for something” or it can mean “something to care for” (86-87).
So what if instead of thinking that all anxiety and all worry is bad, what if Jesus ways saying something completely different?
When Jesus says “do not worry” he is not saying worry is sinful, he is not saying to never worry about anything. He is saying do not be “unduly concerned” or even have a “divided attention” when it comes to living your life. Don’t make your life about trying to “be someone else.” Don’t make life primarily about working towards, gathering, and hoarding “bread and clothes.” This kind of divided attention, will ultimately lead you to a “death by bread alone.”
A divided and anxiety towards bread and clothes will have the ironic effect of you dying a less fulfilled and meaningful life.
And so we learn how to die to the cycles of shame and systems of approval and oppression in order that we might affirm life. Again Dorothee Soelle says:
To learn to die means to be caught up in a great chorus that affirms life; that is what faith is. The more we learn to live in freedom from fear the more we learn to die in freedom from fear. The more we are united to that love with which we know ourselves to be at one, the more immortal we are.
I think what Jesus is saying here is to not be anxious, but instead to be anxious about being caught up in the great chorus that affirms life. To learn how to really worry about love and freedom, and not these external devices that slowly kill the soul. To not worry about bread and clothes is to refuse to have our hearts and minds divided over where our energy is spent and what we value, and how we spend time as a family, and what we study, and what we work towards.
If you are going to worry, than worry towards life and body and love. Worry towards the reign of God.
If you are going to be worry, worry about how you are living in a way that is building up of the beloved community.
If you are going to worry, worry about how to practice the kind of generosity that comes from people who are no longer bound by a divided attention on “bread and clothes.”
If you are going to worry, worry about including other people, prayer and forgiveness, and peacemaking.
Or to put it another way, let your strivings be first toward the kingdom of God and its justice and everything else will come into its proper focus.
Q: What is dividing your attention from finding your true self, from listening to the Inward teacher, and striving for the reign of God in your life and community?