No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, or what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, or 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.
The first time I read this text today I was comforted. Do not worry. God values you and loves you. Do not fear for tomorrow. God’s gifts will come. Those are rather assuring words, aren’t they?
The second time I read this text today, I was cut right to the heart.
I was cut because I am a selfish person. I want ease of life. I want stability. I want comfort. It’s not just that I want food, and clothing, and shelter – it’s that I want good food, and nice clothing, and spacious shelter. Were I to count up the time, money, and effort I spend on getting those things, I would be ashamed. “No one can serve two masters,” Jesus says. I’ve spent the better part of my life doing the best I can to prove him wrong.
I was cut because I live in and contribute to an anxiety-based culture. Countless commercials, advertisements, and political slogans seek to stir us by appealing to our anxieties. Why do so many advertisers pitch their product as the answer to our insecurities? Because it works! We are fundamentally insecure and anxious people, and there is money to be made off of our fears.
I was cut because I do fear, and I do worry, but I fear and worry about the wrong things. I’m afraid of losing the homogenized comforts that I’ve built around myself. I’m anxious about doing something different that might displace me from my comfort zone. In other words, I’m anxious about the very things that Jesus tells us not to be anxious about. This text cautions us about being anxious over the wrong things, but it does not tell us to be completely free of fear or anxiety. There are plenty of mood-altering drugs that could help me be completely worry-free. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not one of them. Karl Marx famously said that religion is the opiate of the masses. Christianity certainly could serve as a feel-good prescription for all of my insecurities, and I could prove Marx right by using the gospel to suit my own comforts. However, if I honestly and faithfully encounter God’s cage-rattling word to us in Holy Scripture I’ll see that the primary function of God’s relationship with his people is not that they should be worry-free. On the contrary, God himself is overwhelmingly the most frequent object of fear in the Bible. In his Church Dogmatics, Karl Barth wrote that in the New Testament, the object of fear is primarily Jesus himself. (Church Dogmatics, II/2, p. 598).
Now it seems I’ve gotten myself into a fine interpretive predicament. I’ve been vocally critical of authority figures who use fear in order to control others. I bristle at any moment in the church’s history in which those who led the church exercised their power through fear. I do not fear God in the sense that I perceive God to be some divine bogeyman who hovers over my head like the sword of Damocles, waiting to shower me with divine wrath should I take a misguided step. I don’t believe that’s the God we meet in Holy Scripture. However, it’s clear that if we are to be servants of one master, the master should be God-in-Jesus-Christ. Christians live in the reality that we serve a master whom we did not choose – but who instead chose us! And being the chosen-ones of this master, our lives are to be lived first and foremost with a sense of gratitude, not fear.
That being said a Christian’s ultimate concern (or worry, if you prefer), should be serving the master. Jesus has called us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, receive the poor, release the prisoner, visit the sick, and welcome the stranger. Jesus has called us to focus our time, money, and energy not on maintaining our own comforts, but on participating in his ministry and advancing his kingdom. In other words, we are to tune out all the other voices in our culture vying for control over our lives, and instead give our attention to the voice of the only master who really matters. If we are to be worried, if we are to be concerned with anything, it should be following the call of Jesus. It also must be said that this sense of worry and concern inevitably leads us back toward the grace of God. I Karl Barth is right, and the predominant object of fear in the New Testament is Jesus himself, then it follows that the object of fear is also its antidote. Christ never simply allows his disciples to founder in fear. To the contrary, he addresses fear with words of peace, and then redirects his disciples out into the world where they can meet the world’s fears with the master’s love.
Yes, I am cut by Jesus’ words. We all are. But in a strange way we are also healed. The act of pruning is frequently used as a metaphor for how God works in our lives, and so often God’s unsettling word to us serves to cut away that which grows toward the darkness instead of toward the light. Then by the grace of God may we strive for God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. And countless other things will be given to us as well.
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First Look is a weekly commentary on the upcoming lectionary gospel text written by Rev. Lee A. Koontz. It is usually published on Mondays.