“Trust God. Don’t worry. Be Happy. Amen.” Boy, I wish it were that easy. As I studied this text, come commentators and even a few pastors boiled this passage down to these easy, spoon sized nuggets. Trust God, don’t worry, be happy. But if there is anything I’ve learned while following Christ, faith can’t be condensed into a bumper sticker slogan. The people who wrote those lines must not have a real congregation that they have to stand in front of with a good word on a given Sunday morning. I look out from the pulpit and I know your worries because you have shared them with me. The parent with cancer, a child living a life of rebellion, a spouse who just spent a week in the hospital, an empty mailbox when a long awaited check is again another day overdue. Just watching the evening news with stories of shootings, floods, and wars adds to our worry. These things weigh heavy on our hearts and minds. Don’t give me, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
But, as I looked at this text in light of the Sermon on the Mount and the entire gospel of Matthew, I think Jesus just might be talking about the kinds of worries that we wrestle with in our lives in this passage. And you can see just where he might be headed in the opening lines of the passage, “no one can serve two masters.” Jesus lets his hearers know they have a choice when it comes to who they serve. And if they try and serve more than one master, their allegiance will be split, shifting between masters based on what they see as the demands and the freedoms offered by each. We can only have one master, and the one that we choose to follow affects the worries that we will have in this life.
On one hand, Jesus says we can choose to follow the god of wealth. In naming this false god, Jesus starts building the framework for a theological understanding of worries. The Greek text names this god, Mammon, the false god of prosperity and riches, and he is also the god of greed. Often times pictured as a ravenous wolf or a seething demon, always wanted more with a hunger that can never be satisfied. Mammon has even been pictured consuming his own followers. He is an age-old master that creeps up in every culture, time and place, whether we give him a name or a bank account number. When we trust in treasure, we can never have enough, and so we inevitably begin to give less and share less and connect less with others. He is a god who is only concerned about trying to fill his insatiable appetite for more and more. Following him leads to a life of isolation and self-protective hoarding, a heartless life of isolation. That’s the devotion and kind of life that this master calls for.
But the other choice is to follow God and enter into kingdom living. Now, remember for Jesus, and it comes out especially in the Sermon on the Mount, that the kingdom of God is something that is lived into and experienced now, not just personal salvation in an afterlife. The kingdom is our present reality and our future hope at the same time. And when Jesus says, “Therefore, do not worry…” he is making a rhetorical shift. Without using words, he says, “You know that money does not set you free from worry. Treasure, no matter how much you may have, does not keep you safe, secure or content. If your trust is built on financial, material or physical security, then you will always, ultimately be disappointed.”
He says that for the birds and flowers, the idea of having to make such a choice about whether or not to trust God is not only unnecessary, it is silly. Leah Schade words it this way, “Jesus encourages his listeners to learn from their kin within God’s creation to gain insight into what it means to trust the Creator. There is a twinkle of humor in his word pictures of birds pushing plows and piling seeds into silos, lilies spinning yarn and knitting sweaters. Then the visual image of Solomon—the wealthiest, most richly clothed king in Israel’s history—contrasts with the vibrant colors of the flowers in the field serves to further illustrate his point about God’s ability to care and provide for all creatures.” God knows what creation needs and God knows what we need, too.
So, how do we view worry in light of this care that comes from God as we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness? Like righteous anger, is there something like righteous worry? Or kingdom worry? I think so, and we see it lived out later in Matthew when Jesus again talks about food, and drink, and clothes. Do you remember it? It is in Matthew 25, on judgment day, when Jesus separates the nations based on what they did when they encountered him. Had they fed him when he was hungry? Was a drink offered when he was thirsty? Had health and wholeness been offered to him when he was sick? When he was behind bars, did they visit him? When they encountered him on the street, was he welcomed? And did they clothe him when he was naked? Neither group knew it was Jesus they had encountered as they were separated to his left and right, but Jesus lets them know that when they had reached out to one of those who were hungry, or thirst, or in need of clothes, they were reaching out to him. And when they hadn’t responded to those who stood before them with their needs of food or drink or clothing and hadn’t given what was needed to fulfill those needs, they were in effect rejecting him.
So what does this say about worry? Those that responded to the needs around them were living in the kingdom without even knowing it. They had pursued the righteousness of God without realizing it. They had kingdom worry, a worry for the other. But a better word for it would be compassion, or maybe even a better word would be love. Like God’s love for all creation, a love that flows out of the heart of God to fill the needs of all of his good creation. And when God’s love fills our hearts, it flows out us, too, having an impact on neighbor, friend, strangers and all of the rest of creation.
Pursuing God’s kingdom reorients our lives to God’s purpose in light of God’s values, God’s priorities and God’s love. It is giving up our self-trust in our own resources and opening ourselves to the community of men and women who are willing to embrace a new way of living. It becomes a place where victims of violence and war discover they can be free because they are surrounded by peacemakers who are protecting them. The hungry and the homeless will find that they are free because they are welcomed into the hospitality of caring brothers and sisters. The grieving will be supported and nurtured in their grief. Our faith becomes focused on Christ’s message to truly seek God’s kingdom. Because we do this, all things will be added to us, self-worry will be a thing of the past, and we will know the freedom of a strong and secure community of mutual care and support with and for each other.
Is it possible to live a worry free life? Yes and no. Jesus says it depends on who you choose to follow. We have a choice. On one hand is a life consumed by self worry and marked by isolation and the demands that one’s own needs be filled. On the other hand is choosing God and pursuing his kingdom. Worry is still part of seeking his kingdom, but it is expressed by giving, sharing in the community, but most importantly, it is lived out in love.