Has a more beautiful dream ever been put into words then when Isaiah writes “Can a mother forget her infant? Be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget…God will never forget you.”
God will never forget YOU.
If we were to boil down and distill all that Jesus taught and lived out during his life, this would be the essence of the Good News he came to share – the utter heart of all that we hope for. When ever I hear this verse I remember many a morning when my youngest daughter was around 14-months-old and she would run excitedly in and out of the room where I was working. She would run down the hall and then make a wobbly toddler U-turn and and run right back down the same hallway to the room where I sat with my computer and as she burst through the door she would yell with wide eyes “Momma!” like she just discovered me for the first time. Then she would stick her chin out and squint her eyes and give me a big toothy grin, and begin a great big belly laugh as she started running down the hallway again. For months this was our glorious morning routine – and every time I heard those little feet thumping down the hall my heart grew fuller. Such sweetness! So much so that the memory is as real to me today 11 years later as it was that very morning. Such fierce and endless love I have for my darling child.
…and yet I could sooner forget HER than God forget ME.
And, on the flip side, she has absolutely no idea how much she is loved. My Dad always used to say, and I think it is a beautiful image to plant in a little child’s imagination, that God dances with happiness and excitement every time you walk through the doors of church, like God says “Oh hoorah – Lisa is here!” and I have to say after 52 years I still hear and claim that greeting every time I enter our big wooden doors. That God SO delights in us is an idea almost too good to really take in and yet our scriptures over and over again bid us to believe it and live with the assurance that comes from being so treasured.
Jesus knew this intimacy very well; it was at the very core of his message. His mission was to free us from anything that keeps us from this intimacy with God. Jesus says trust in God and “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body or what you will wear…” This is hard to hear, no? We want to exclaim with exasperation “You gotta be kidding me! Don’t worry?” Jesus may as well be asking us to fly or to stop breathing!
It’s just an impossible task, right? How can we not feel anxious when we are facing a potential world war, a crumbling environment, violent fundamentalist movements, wondering if/when this damned pandemic will rear its ugly head again, aging, racism, sickness, poverty, homelessness, crime. And the list goes on. We are bombarded daily with plausible doomsday scenarios that even George Orwell himself would have thought a bit grim.
So, what are we to make of Jesus’ words? Is it really possible to live a worry free life?
It’s notable that Jesus begins this passage by saying “No one can serve two masters…you cannot serve God and money.” Now its important to point out what Jesus is NOT saying here – namely that money is evil, or objectively “bad” in some way. But rather he says money makes a lousy master, maybe even dangerous. The error lies in trusting and looking to money to provide the security and happiness that only God can give us.
There is only one place in the bible that God actually invites us to put him to the test and it has to do with how we handle our money. In the third chapter of Malachi God says “Test me in this…just you try and out do me in generosity and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not be able to contain it!!”
Our scriptures advise us to give 10% of all our earnings back to God to care for the poor, but what is KEY HERE is that this mandate is much less about “doing our good deed for God” and more an act of trust; an act of trust that keeps us healthy; a humble recognition that God’s ways are not our ways, and that God knows our needs and how best to meet them. Giving our first fruits to God is an act of trust that helps to ensure that we do not become seduced by the false promises of wealth.
It has been said “Security is not found in what we have, but rather in what we can do without.” So, it’s not about the money or the “stuff” but rather about where we place our trust and our allegiance; about what we allow to have power over us. Jesus knew this was a big stumbling block for us and that is why he so strongly warns that money makes a rotten master.
Another thing Jesus is NOT saying is that planning ahead is not needed. It takes great effort and the use of our God given gifts to maintain a household and feed our children. Heck, more than half my life is spent meal planning and doing laundry – namely caring for what my family members are going to eat, drink and wear – and I don’t feel doing so is somehow shirking my calling as a Christian. Quite the contrary. It is living out my vocation as a parent.
I simply don’t believe that somehow if we are completely driven and focused on bringing the kingdom that all our physical needs will be magically provided for. Lots of Christians read this scripture in this way, but, I just can’t go there whole-heartedly. There are simply too many sincere believers, and children, on this planet in great need and I don’t think its because they are “worrying too much” and aren’t properly focused enough on bringing God’s kingdom.
I think though they certainly are a continual reminder to us that we, first world believers, with our multiple big screens and overflowing storage units are not living as Jesus calls us to. We are the ones messing up the balance. We are stifling, not seeking the kingdom with our choices. When Jesus says “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all else will be given you” perhaps he is not so much prescribing a personal piety as much as a way of communal life.
By definition to be rich is to have more – a lot more than others. To continue to live this way when in the same society there are many who do not have enough, without a doubt violates the principles of the kingdom Jesus was trying to show us. This is a no brainer, and the unrest that comes from this continued unbalance rightly causes some anxiety.
Now you might be thinking, “Well I’m not rich” but everything is relative. If you have never spent a day hungry, have clothing and a place to live and are able to secure even the most minimal of healthcare and education you are among the top three percent of the wealthy in the whole WORLD.
There recently emerged a whole new field of academic study in which scientists try to pinpoint, objectively as possible, what really brings about human happiness. And what they have discovered is that any money that we accumulate over and above having all our basic needs met, has little or no effect on our level of happiness. In fact in some cases, excess wealth brings unhappiness and anxiety.
And what did the scientists discover brings us the most happiness? Right relationships! One of the most accurate measures of happiness and stability is not the bottom line in our bank account, but rather the quality of the relationships that we enjoy and sustain us.
And isn’t this the kingdom Jesus is talking about? The kingdom isn’t made of bricks and mortar, but rather the kingdom is US – the body of Christ – being built right up until this very moment one relationship at a time. We cannot seek the kingdom alone because it is fundamentally about our life together. Our treasure IS one another.
God knows us, God designed us, so of course God knows what we need. That is why Jesus makes such a strong plea for us to resist giving money too high a place in our life. It is a powerful tool that can be used for good, but it can also be very seductive in promising what it cannot deliver. If we can embrace the motto “Enough is as good as a feast” we will be happier, less anxious people.
In that spirit and in closing, here’s a little parable from Jesuit Anthony De Mello:
A Hindu monk had reached the outskirts of the village and settled down under a tree for the night when a villager came running up to him and said, “The stone! The stone! Give me the precious stone!”
“What stone?” asked the monk.
“Last night the Lord Shiva appeared to me in a dream,” said the villager, “And told me that if I went to the outskirts of the village at dusk I would find a monk who would give me a precious stone that would make me rich forever.”
The monk rummaged in his bag and pulled out a stone. “He probably meant this one,” he said, as he handed the stone over to the villager. “I found it on a forest path some days ago. You can certainly have it.”
The man gazed at the stone in wonder. It was a diamond, probably the largest diamond in the whole world, for it was as large as a person’s head.
The villager took the diamond and returned home in great celebration. But all night he tossed about in bed, unable to sleep. The next day at the crack of dawn he returned to the outskirts of town and woke the monk and said “Please, give to me that which made it possible for you to give this diamond away so easily.”
May we continue to grow in our trust of God’s love and care for us so that we too may enjoy this kind of freedom…