Why are we spending all this time looking at “Questions Jesus Asked”? Jesus is often set forth as a “great moral teacher.” As we who follow Jesus into the world seek to imitate him, we can all too easily envision that process as requiring us to “teach” – which we often assume means to bring information or principles to people who are not in possession of them. That puts a lot of pressure on us – and often ends up with the (not always inaccurate) perception that we are “preaching at” people. That’s why it’s important to remember that Jesus was, just as significantly a “Great Asker of Questions.” I’m trying to learn how to ask good questions… and allow people to answer them on their own… and then go from there. So paying attention to these questions not only raises important issues – it also helps us to be more humble and authentic as we interact with people and situations in this big, confusing world of ours. Maybe it’s not as much about me having all the right answers as much as it is helping to frame good questions…
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Mat. 6:25)
This question follows directly upon an imperative: “Don’t worry about your life”… What? Is Jesus here, in the famous Sermon on the Mount encouraging, even commanding, a reckless neglect of the future? He’s not saying don’t plan, don’t exercise forethought (after all, that’s the essence of wisdom)… but don’t allow anxiety to be your motivation. The Greek word used means to “divide” or “distract,” which is precisely what anxiety does to us. But, as you plan, don’t be divided by worry about food and clothing (even though these things are necessary for survival).
What is Jesus asking about here and why? At issue here is a call to consider our ultimate values; what is it that really matters? Food and clothing are obviously high on the list… Sometimes our sense of the critical need of the basic stuff of life does define what life actually is. The very fact that Jesus can ask this question implies that it is actually possible to consider life as not being more than food and clothing.
Certainly, I need to eat and be clothed in order to survive… and when we consider the situation of those who are lacking such things, it becomes imperative for us to address these needs in the name of Jesus. Jesus himself portrays himself as standing as Supreme Judge against those who did not feed the hungry and clothe the naked, because refusing to do so was tantamount to refusing Jesus himself (Mat 25:35-36).
But he is asking this question to those who are not – at least in the present moment, since no guarantees are given for the future – naked and hungry… He’s asking that to me and (I would presume) to you, the reader. You know what you need to survive, but what do you need to live? Are you pursuing your life consumed by anxiety about survival? Do you sense how different those two pursuits are?
In the parallel passage in Luke, this is phrased as a statement: “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” So, unlike many of the questions we’re looking at, it could be taken as somewhat rhetorical… Jesus clearly wants us to grasp that living is more than surviving. And that anxiety about our “needs” will not serve us well in the walk of faith into which he is calling us.
God cares. God knows. And God provides – not in the ways we might expect or desire, but that’s the whole point. Anxiety corrodes contentment, which evaporates the gratitude that is at the root of true worship. God does indeed call us to sacrifice, to embrace our own vulnerability and weakness, to recognize that, in and of ourselves, we are indeed, in a precarious position.
But if our focus is on seeing that we have what we need, we will inevitably conclude that we need a little bit more… when do we really ever feel “secure” in our provision? Since we don’t know what tomorrow holds, maybe we need to have tomorrow’s needs covered today… then we can relax a little and think about the state of our soul. But does that ever really happen?
This question reminds us that we have a choice. We can exist in anxiety about our “needs,” and scramble to cover all our bases. Or we can throw ourselves on the mercy of the Eternal, who is the source of all good things, who loves and cares for us.
When all is said and done, we do have the assurance that Paul provides in his letter to the church in Rome: “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?”
This post continues a series which begins here. The series continues here.