Don’t worry, be happy – Matthew 6:24-34
This text must be read as a composite unit. While it may seem to be two issues at hand verse 24 serves to state the issue while verses 25- 34 serve as the solution. Sadly, the titles to these scripture texts as they appear in our Bibles create an artificial and fallacious impression that these are two teaching; in reality they are one.
Society has changed a great deal since the time of Jesus. Definitions of poverty, wealth, and the good life are much different today than they were then. Yet even today, many of us may not fall in the category of affluence and wealth. Perhaps many of us have grown out of poverty into a growing middle class. The reality is often seen in our parents who lived through hard times and who continue to live in the ‘fear’ of an impending financial tragedy.
This fear is often seen in the poor. They who wander the streets have no cupboards or refrigerators. The dirty hand bag they carry often serves as both. In it they store all kinds and all sorts out of fear of not getting another meal. Take this to another level and most of us too live in the fear that the security we enjoy could disappear in a flash; a job loss, the death of a bread winner and so on. It is understandable why many of us would cling to our bank balances rather than to the word of God. Wealth competes with God for the human heart.
Jesus wants us to cling to him especially if our fear and insecurity of the futures turns into an obsession or even worse a crazed desire to hoard more, buy more and possess more. In doing that we ‘despise’ the Lord while we are ‘devoted’ to our financial portfolios. It is in this light that verse 25 flows.
Of all Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, this is one of the more difficult sections to understand. Jesus’ words seem out of step with our society and on the surface, they lack coherence with the lives we are living. The Lord’s solution which seems simplistic is reflected in the ever-popular song of Bobby Mcferrin which dominated the 1980’s called “don’t worry be happy.” Five times in this text we are told to stop worrying about tomorrow as the troubles we have today are burdensome itself. It seems to suggest that one does not need to work or prepare for the future at all; we can simply relax knowing that God will take care of our needs.
Yet ironically this is not just good practical advice but also sage spiritual advice. The attitude of dependence on the Lord must shine forth in our lives or else our needs become wants and our wants drive us to greed driving our souls into the hands of satan. “Do not worry about what you will eat” in verse 6:25 does not mean that food is unimportant. Remember that the Lord himself asked that his followers to pray for “daily bread” (6:11). The issue is not what we eat or drink or wear but our trust in God to provide it. Jesus is addressing the basis for excessive worry and anxiety that can result from a life separated from God and this is the point being made.
The life of discipleship is characterized by a life that is singular in its pursuit of God. It does not mean that we will not (or should not) acquire possessions, wealth, or need food, clothing and other necessities. Rather, once one is devoted to God, one adopts the values, behaviors and priorities that God affirms.
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