Thursday, 27 February 2014

Do not be Anxious! (Matthew 6:25-34)

"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." (Matthew 6:25-34)


Jesus' sermon so far has focussed on the importance of a new focus, one which displays a certain holy contempt for earthly things: no longer are riches the foundation of prosperity, in fact, blessed are the poor in spirit! But far from less, far from promising less than riches, he has offered more: "for theirs is the kingdom of God." (Mt. 5:3) The antitheses, in their own way, are also rejections of purely earthly things: no longer, for instance, is the one who wins a fight the true victor - no, now Jesus says "I say to you, do not resist an evildoer, but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also..." (Mt. 5:39) Our reward for our actions is also not to be considered an earthly one - if we seek the glory given by humans, then "you have no reward from your Father in heaven." (Mt. 6:1) In fact, we cannot serve two masters: Christ puts before us the earthly and the heavenly, and we must choose. (cf. Mt. 6:24)

Who will we serve? The answer for the Christian is clear: "is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" Or in other words, is there not more to life than the earthly? Yet the consequence is also clear: "Therefore, do not worry about your life", for our earthly life to which he refers truly is more than the acquisition of wealth, the securing of food and shelter, the clothing of the body. Is this not so in common experience? When we merely seek after earthly things, we grow weary, because we must simply repeat the process again and again: we are like tedious cleaners in a messy room, each day cleaning, each day our work is undone, a never ending cycle of repetition.

All those who have launched themselves into the vowed life have understood it: life is more than the earthly. They have lowered themselves to be like the birds of the air, who also depend on God's providence. In observing how God cares for the birds and even the grass with matchless providence, we too must set aside purely earthly concerns. One might return "this is not realistic, I must work for my bread!" - yet this would be to misunderstand. Consider more closely the birds: much of their life is spent in pursuit of food. To eschew anxiousness is not to wallow in laziness, as if the providence of God precludes work. It does not! Jesus nonetheless tells us "do not be anxious!" We are to avoid worrying about what the morrow may bring. Now is the present, today is our gift, let us not be overly concerned about what may not even come.

We are to avoid anxiousness about earthly things, and even more than the other animals, for we have been given the grace of a more intimate communion with God. For the human, made in the image of God, the earthly cannot suffice. The mystics in particular have understood this - in the words of St Teresa of Àvila's famous prayer:

"Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing; 
God alone suffices."

Since God alone will quench the spark of divine thirst in us, does it make sense to always look out for worldly things? No - this world is good, but passing. We are not entirely unlike the grass of the field, who grow and blossom, then decay until death. Yet the promise of Christ is for more, more than this world in its transience, we are to seek the kingdom of God. Lest we think we are missing out in this life, all the good of this world is retained, indeed, Jesus says: "strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

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