August 15, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news from Luke 12:22-34.
He said to [his] disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Notice the ravens: they do not sow or reap; they have neither storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them. How much more important are you than birds! Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest? Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides. Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
This is one of my favorite teachings. I find comfort in it but also challenge. There’s so much sound advice here that it’s hard to digest it all.
One of the things that catches my attention is how Jesus sets apart fear from the kingdom. One of these days I’m going to find out how many times in the scriptures “Do not be afraid” or its equivalents are used. It’s a lot. Fear and its expressions of worry and anxiety are what this passage is all about.
Alfred Adler, co-founder of psychoanalysis with Freud, addresses fear and anxiety in Understanding Human Nature, “Fear is one of the most significant phenomena in the life of human beings. This feeling is complicated by the fact that it is not only a disjunctive emotion, but like sorrow it is capable of creating a one-sided bond with one’s fellows….[F]ear worms its way into everyday relationships and becomes an individual’s most important instrument of domination.” I think this is what Jesus observed about people and one reason why he exhorted listeners to not be afraid. It causes disruption between people because of the felt need to dominate; it causes us to want to hold on and hoard; it causes us to want to control what we have no real control over.
Adler goes on about anxiety, “Anxiety is an extraordinarily widespread trait; it accompanies an individual from earliest childhood to old age. It embitters her life to a marked degree, distances her from all human contacts, and destroys her hope of building up a peaceful life or making fruitful contributions to the world….Once someone assumes the point of view that life’s difficulties must be avoided, she is inviting anxiety in, and once in, it will reinforce that point of view….The development of an individual’s personality and ability to contribute to our common welfare is markedly inhibited by this trait….Only when we are conscious of belonging to the one human family can we go through life without anxiety.” I think that’s what Jesus was trying to get at when he said that the Father is pleased to give us the kingdom. God wants us to realize that we are one human family, the family that He has created and wants to draw together into His kingdom now on earth. Fear, worry, and anxiety keep us from seeking His kingdom and enjoying its treasures.
God knows what we need. Jesus told us so. He also told us that our needs will be met if we seek the kingdom. It requires faith to believe that and to enable me to put aside my fears, worries, and anxieties. Why do I find it so hard to believe in God’s generous love for me, that He will provide for my needs, that He wants me to be happy and free of cares? Why is it so hard for me to let go of security, of control — both of which are illusions. I don’t have the answers to those questions; it is simply my nature.
Richard Rohr in The Good News According to Luke has an interesting perspective on this passage. “Jesus is in effect telling us, ‘Stop working for the kingdom, you’ve already got it. Stop trying to achieve it, it’s already yours….The Lord has given you his kingdom already….Insofar as you believe it each moment, insofar as you let it happen, you will experience it.’ That’s why the call is to faith, to believe. Such faith is the opposite of anxiety….Jesus is not calling us to be afraid of God or warning us about God. Jesus is not saying, ‘God’s right around the corner and is out to get you.’ Rather he is warning us about missing life. He is saying ‘It’s all right here and now. Live in the moment and don’t let life just float you along. Choose life each moment. Enjoy it each moment. Live it each moment.’…[God] created us for joy, which is all-embracing, deep, enduring, steady. To live in joy is the gift of the Spirit. We have to be a people who once again are free to enjoy — to enjoy our lives, to enjoy our selves, to enjoy one another.”
On our retreat in June I realized that God wants me to be happy. It was such a revelation. However, I have to hear that message over and over; it hasn’t completely soaked in yet. It occurs to me right now that I need to wake each morning to the thought that God wants me to be happy today; he wants me to live with joy, to accept that the kingdom is already mine. Maybe then I can keep fear, worry, and anxiety at bay and live my life in freedom.