These are worrisome times we are living in. There is an unprecedented global financial crisis, economic recession, threats of terrorism, more and more layoffs, and a growing government deficit. It’s just bad news all the way around. Add this pile of stink to the routine madness that you and I deal with daily, as a matter of course. Like trying to raise decent kids, and maintaining a good marriage, and paying all the bills, and the house is always a mess, the career pressures, friends dying of cancer, too many church committee obligations, every organization is asking you for money all the time, and what is that red spot on my shoulder? Was that there before?
It seems as if the sheer weight of responsibility that goes with being an adult in the modern 21st century can just about break us sometimes.
So, I’m in somewhat of a gloomy mood as I sit down to read my daily dose of scripture this morning, and I bet you are now too, if you weren’t before. In keeping with His extraordinary sense of humor and good timing, God has lined up for me today a very propitious passage. As I open my bible to the book-marked page at Luke 12:22-33, my eyes are immediately drawn to a bold heading above the verses I’m about to read. It says, in a very objective and authoritative, yet casual, italicized font:
“Do not worry.”
“Funny,” I think, with a nod to God. I read the passage with great concentration and an earnest desire for tranquility. Jesus is encouraging the crowds with words of comfort and reassurance about how God will take care of them. Don’t have an anxious mind, He says, because God knows about everything you need. Seek first His kingdom.
It isn’t sinking in.
I read it again, slowly, trying to soak my brain in it. But the grumpy mood is still hovering all around me, distracting me, making faces and kicking me under the table. I remember how our youth director at church, Melissa, gets the kids to visualize bible passages because it helps them concentrate on the message. She has them read a passage and then close their eyes and imagine the scene in vivid detail. It creates more impact, she says. Although some folks at church are suspicious of any bible study tool that involves using one’s imagination, especially a teen-ager’s. I decide to give it a try, to visualize the passage. I take a very deep breath and blow it all out very slowly and close my eyes.
Lilies of the field. Treasure in heaven.
I see Jesus standing on the rugged mount. It’s a sunny middle-eastern afternoon, the wind is gusting through his shoulder-length and surprisingly well-conditioned brown hair, and billowing around his super-white 100% organic cotton robe. The disciples are all sitting around his feet in their raggedy, itchy, burlap robes, listening attentively and in eager expectation. I listen to the voice of Jesus on the mount, and I let my thoughts float along on the Jerusalem winds.
I try to take in the comfort of this wonderful passage from Luke, but my worried mind is going elsewhere, and I find that I am becoming alarmingly cynical towards that sweet bible passage. This happens to me every now and then – I’m trying to get comfy with Jesus, but this harsh, skeptical, cynical voice butts in and ruins everything. And I feel compelled to see where it’s going to take me.
So here’s what that cynical voice in my head is saying about the “Do not worry” passage in Luke 12:23-33: Sure, it’s easy for Jesus to tell these people not to worry. He didn’t have the financial responsibilities of a family to worry about! Neither did Peter, or Paul, for that matter. None of them schlocks had wives or kids to take care of! (Apparently bible scholars still debate if Peter or Paul were married, but the fact that this even is a debatable question shows the lack of priority the women and children must have had in the scheme of things.) Those disciples and apostles didn’t have a mortgage payment, or car repairs, or the care and well-being of their wives to think of, or college tuition payments to worry about so that their kids could get a decent start in life and avoid spending the next ten years paying off college loans or have to consider a cash advance to pay their bills the way their parents did.
The great founding fathers of our faith have very little to say about the sticky little pressures of modern family life. Couldn’t Jesus and the other guys who wrote the gospels and the epistles have given us parents and spouses a little more credit? Instead we hear them encouraging men to stay single, don’t get married unless your loins are burning up. It’s like Jesus called on these random guys to be his disciples, and bam! Just like that they leave their jobs, families and homes. Goodbye responsibility, hello Jesus!
It would have give me great comfort if, just once, Jesus told someone that the kingdom of God would be better served if he stayed at home, kept his job and took good care of his family rather than abandoning it all for the gospel.
“Jesus approached a young man named Bartolomes at his place of work and said, “Follow me.” Bartolomes immediately dropped his spreadsheet tablets (for lo, he was an accountant) and got up to follow Jesus. His wife and six children however, chased after him frantically, crying out desperately for him to remain with them and help pay the bills so they could eat three squares a day and have a decent roof over their heads.”
“Jesus, aware of the potential family meltdown, turned to Bartolomes and said, “No, I did not mean for you to follow me, literally. Dost thou not have a brain in thine head to think with? I meant follow me in your heart. You will do more good for the Kingdom of God by faithfully loving and caring for your family as if you were loving and caring for me, than you ever would by gallivanting across the land.”
Wouldn’t that be great?
I wish that the bible had something more uplifting to say for those of us who gave up all of our youthful ignorance, idealism and self-centeredness of single living in exchange for becoming productive and responsible citizens, devoted and loving parents and spouses. It’s fulfilling, certainly, but at times it’s also difficult and stressful and expensive and time consuming.
There’s plenty of stuff to worry about.
* * * * * *
On the days when I’m feeling especially anxious, rather than praying about it, I’ll just ask God to give me a once-over while I go take a nap. My hope is that the Holy Spirit will have better luck with my subconscious self, who is really just a deeper, more in-touch version of me, and perhaps together those two will do some kind of magnificent handiwork on my tired soul.
The next morning I woke up and went back to that same scripture again in Luke 12, and tried to read it with a fresh perspective. This time I happened to notice the few verses that preceded the Do Not Worry passage, which seemed to be connected to the story in an important way. Once I backed up and read again from verse 13 instead of starting at verse 22, I realized that Jesus got into that whole worry discussion mostly because he was trying to say something about our relationship with money.
Here’s what happened in verse 13. Jesus is doing his usual thing, preaching spiritual truths to the crowds, being brilliant and cutting and witty and all that, when some smart-ass in the audience decides that his problem is the most important issue in the room. He then tells – not asks, but tells – Jesus that he wants his help. He wants to get his fair share of his inheritance, because this guy’s brother apparently would not divide it with him, and he needs Jesus to butt in and make his brother split the cash. Which, really, if you think about it, was such an inappropriate and bossy thing to tell Jesus when there’s a huge mob of desperately needy and sick people there all around him. What was this guy thinking? Jesus wouldn’t help him. Instead Jesus more or less says, “Why should I help you, buddy?” That was probably a very effective way of pointing out to the crowd what an idiot this guy was. I’m sure the crowd applauded too, after they heard this comment. Jesus proceeded to use the loudmouth’s obnoxious request to warn everyone about greed, that our life is more than possessions. He went on to tell the story of a rich man who was doing so well with his crops one year that he started fantasizing about building these huge barns, overflowing with all the crops, so that he could sit around all day fat and happy, just collecting the cash. Sounds kind of nice, doesn’t it? “I’ll just eat, drink and be merry,” is the actual line famously used in this scripture. Who among us hasn’t dreamed about having that kind of security? I’ll work hard, make a pile of cash, and finally have freedom. No worries, we think. Like the Joni Mitchell song says: “I’ll make a lot of money and quit this crazy scene.” Unfortunately, the rich man dies that same night, and God says “So, big guy, who’s got all your toys now?”
Jesus knows that we all have this drive to work really hard to try and buy security in life. And he is saying, no, that’s not it. There really is no security in life. That’s the first lesson, numero uno. Which is kind of hard to swallow for us hard-core, independent-minded control freaks. But maybe once we grasp that point, then the verses that follow in Luke 12:22 – 33 about not worrying start to make sense. Jesus is saying there is so much more to life than the raw economics of money and transactions. There is a spiritual economy, too, made of relationships and giving and loving, which leads to a spiritual security. The spiritual economy is going on all around us, right in front of us, and the beauty is that it is based on eternal, unlimited abundance. But we get distracted and driven by the financial economy which appears to be bigger, more important, more tangible and more threatening. So we fret about our portfolio and our prospects, and we check in on the market every 15 minutes, and we worry. But If I am quiet for a second and listen to Jesus very carefully, He says, “You’re operating in the wrong economy. Change gears. Shift your perspective.”
And then, “Get over yourself.”
We’re all going to survive this financial downturn. It will come, and it will go. We may lose a lot of money, and we may recover it again. God loves me and is still going to take care of me and my family. What I need to do right now is invest in the spiritual economy. That’s more of a sure thing.