On a first reading one can easily conclude that Jesus is really pushing it a bit far in this gospel passage from Matthew. The images of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field being taken care of come over strongly. We know that it would be unrealistic for us to sit around and wait like that to be fed and clothed. However, when we delve a little into these images, we understand that the birds of the air actually work quite hard to obtain the food they need for their survival. The flowers of the field work collaboratively with the earth, sun, and air for the nutrients they need. Jesus is suggesting that what is needed to sustain life is provided, and there is sufficient if we are working in right relationships with our earth and with one another.
The bookends of this particular passage set the context. The first makes it clear that we cannot serve God and possessions. We are challenged to make a choice, to be single-minded and single-hearted. The other bookend tells us to seek the kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness. Then the other concerns will fall into place.
We live in a world obsessed with food and fashion among other things. For the underfed there is the constant struggle for food. For the overfed there is the constant concern about diets and ingredients, and labels. Clothes and fashions constantly change, creating the illusion that clothes are more for adornment than cover.
Jesus is not being simplistic and utterly unrealistic. He is challenging some of our obsessions. His words are like the ‘attention getter’ leading to “seek first the kingdom of God. Then these things will be looked after.” If we seek God’s kingdom of justice, sisterhood and brotherhood, then the resources of our earth will be used as intended, to sustain us, and not to be collected and hoarded by us. In this way the God-bestowed resources will be available to sustain all living beings.
Jesus relates the message with God’s care for us. All that is necessary is provided. Our task is to seek that reign of justice so that the reality of that care can be evident to all. Isaiah tried to image God’s care for us as a mother’s care for her child. Jesus gives us a wider image – God’s total care of all nature, exemplified in the birds of the air, the flowers of the field and us, the humans. Nature provides us with sufficient. We have made it complicated with our greed. In today’s message Jesus tells us to turn it around, back to how it was meant to be. The principle he sets before us is challenging – we cannot serve God and possessions. Watering down the message will be of little use in our desire to ‘seek first the reign of God.’
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP