(2009 – 6)
Who of us has not been affected in some way by the current worldwide economic turmoil? In whichever country you live you have likely been impacted, if not directly, then indirectly. Some of you may have lost jobs, or have had your work hours reduced, or you may have had pay cuts or income lessened in some other way. Perhaps you have been touched indirectly, because you know those who have been affected financially and are now living a more sparse existence, perhaps having lost homes, health care, or adequate nutrition. We all need to be praying for others as well as for ourselves, because we are all in this together.
John Donne wrote the classic, always-applicable words that fit the current situation especially well:
“No [one] is an island, entire unto itself. Every person is a piece of the continent, a part of the mainland. If a clod is washed away by the sea, Europe [or Asia, Africa, the Islands, Latin America, North America] is diminished, just as if the sea had washed away a mountain or one of your friend’s grand houses. Any person’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in humankind. Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for you” (John Donne, Religious Poetry and Prose, ed. Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. [Brewster, MA: Paraclete, 1999], p. 91).
Donne’s words apply not only to death, but to the numerous ways people around the world face adversity and hardship. He writes, “By [the] consideration of another’s danger I begin to contemplate my own, and I secure myself by making my recourse to God, who is our only security” (p. 91)
Growing Up Limited
I have been thinking of economic matters since I was young, because our family had relatively little of this world’s goods. Money was always scarce, but I do not regret having to save, work hard as a child and teenager, and spend carefully. My brother and I each saved $12.50 to buy the only bicycle we ever owned, a simple used two-wheeler that we took turns sanding, painting, riding, and repairing. I bought my first car at the age of 17 for $175.00 – a mint-green 1953 Ford. (It was definitely cool!) Judy and I started married life with a strict budget of $7.00 a week for food and grocery-store items.
Financial stringency is not, in itself, a hardship. Jesus grew up in a land of very meager incomes, and the vast majority of the early Christians were from among the lower economic classes. While some of these were poor (and while poverty always involves hardship and stress), living economically due to tight fiscal circumstances is actually an opportunity for blessing rather than a burden. While God loves equally the wealthy and those of moderate or meager means, depth of character and respect for hard work are more likely to result from austerity the prosperity.
Greed and Grace
Most of the people Jesus ministered to were financially pressed, and they listened eagerly whenever he spoke about money. Some of the wealthy also heard Jesus speak of material wealth, and were struck forcefully by the simplicity and seriousness of his words. In the Gospel of Luke, just before the passage we will be considering, Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15, NRSV). He then told a parable about a rich man who said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” God called him a fool (Luke 12:16-21).
Jesus then spoke more directly to his disciples, who had an opposite set of circumstances from the rich man. Because of their meager financial means, he instructed them about worry, fear, and anxious striving about their daily necessities. Luke 12:22-34 is one of the most tender, yet firm, discourses of Jesus in the Gospels. While he rebukes them gently for their “little faith,” he reminds them that their Father knows that they need daily food, drink and clothing. He adds one of the most loving sentences in all of the Bible, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
Striving for the Best
It is from this context that I lift out the verse that I wish to focus on for The Benediction Project. After exhorting his disciples not to worry and not to strive anxiously for their daily necessities, he says, “Instead, strive for his [God’s] kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:31). Some of you may be more familiar with the wording in Matthew’s gospel: “But strive [seek] first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). I memorized and have quoted the verse from Matthew all of my Christian life, but for this discussion I wish to work primarily from the Lukan context because of the unique words of Jesus following Luke 12:31.
I started this piece by referring to the likelihood that all of us are affected in some way by current economic patterns. Before the next posting I encourage you strongly to read and think about Luke 12:13-34, especially the words of Jesus given directly to his disciples (vss. 22-34). In the Gospels Jesus speaks much about money. Scholars say that it is the single most discussed topic in all of Jesus’ teachings. Whether you are wealthy or poor, or somewhere in-between, you probably have money on your mind frequently. Jesus’ encouragement to “strive for his kingdom” is the most sure way to keep your priorities in order, and to keep your mind and heart stable in these turbulent times. Let me bless you, in closing, with a refreshing translation of our key text.
“[Your Father] will give you all you need from day to day if you make the Kingdom of God your primary concern” (Luke 12:31, New Living Translation).