“And [Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing…. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.’”
Last week, you heard Solomon’s laments about earthly pursuits: “Vanity of vanities…all is vanity.” Remember what Solomon labeled as vanity: making the collecting and gathering of earthly things the heart of life. Having that as your reason for existence makes life end up being a pointless act. Everything that is collected and gathered ends up being handed over to someone else anyway. There is no lasting gain of what your mind and body put their effort into. This was also Jesus’ point in the parable that He spoke about the rich fool. All the barns full of wheat ultimately bring him no riches; all his assets are lost when his soul is demanded of him. He actually was poor toward God; his life was falsely based in the abundance of possessions.
Those thoughts stand behind Jesus’ statements that you heard this morning. Jesus continues His teaching about earthly goods and the wrong thinking about them. He corrects the thinking that all people naturally have. That change begins when Jesus says: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” That last statement is consistent with what Jesus said prior to His parable: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Jesus talks to His disciples about the more that exists to life. Food and clothing seem like the end-all, be-all to life. After all, how does one live without such things? Jesus does not say that these are unimportant or unnecessary for earthly life. But He does reveal two things about life itself: (a) worrying about the necessary things will not increase your lifetime on earth, and (b) there is more to life than just the days you spend on earth.
The first point that Jesus makes begins to reveal your own powerlessness. Jesus knows that your minds work. He knows that they can calculate and analyze. Your minds can figure out all sorts of things. They can come to basic conclusions: “Living is good, so having life is my goal. In order to live, I need various items—food, drink, clothing, shelter, etc. When others lack these items, their lives end. So I need to focus on getting them.” But all the mental calculating and analyzing won’t add one hour to your life. Ultimately, you have no power to do that, despite all the gears running in your head.
Jesus says: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” Your anxiety will not make you live longer. And if you can’t even add an hour to your lifetime by being anxious, then what makes you think that such anxiety is of benefit to you? It’s another vanity. It’s pointless. It’s futile. It’s folly. To emphasize that point, Jesus uses some examples from nature that each of you can witness: “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them…. Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” The birds and flowers are provided for despite their inability to mentally calculate and analyze. They live off what God in His goodness provides.
Living off what God in His goodness provides is what you are meant to do as one of His creatures. Instead of being anxious about it, you are to receive what God gives. The same concern that God has for the birds and flowers is shown to you. In fact, the One who provides shows you more concern: “Of how much more value are you than the birds!… But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith!” This truth revealed by Jesus calls you to put your faith in the providence of God. His role is to provide for you. That is what He has set up the creation to do. He has the ability and power, not you. So Jesus exhorts you to stop all the anxious attempts to be your own Creator and Provider. Instead, place your faith and trust in God who does create and provide.
Then there is the second point in Jesus’ teaching here. He also tells you that there is more to life than days on earth. It is something that God, your Father, knows. He wants you to know that also. Wrapping up His statement about the earthly things, Jesus says: “Seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” Jesus reveals a greater part of existence. Life isn’t just about having enough food, drink, and clothing. No, there is a kingdom that you belong to. And as you belong to it, the earthly necessities will be given to you.
But you may think: “Okay, Jesus; I get that there is something more than just time here on earth. In fact, I’d like to have this greater thing. But how am I supposed to seek out this kingdom that is greater than earth, when I can’t even add days to my life here on earth? How is this kingdom-seeking possible? Won’t my attempts just end up in more vanity and futility?” To these questions, Jesus answers: “You are correct. This would just end up in more vanity and futility, if it were all left up to you. But that’s not the way it works. Just like God provides for your eating and drinking and clothing for your earthly life, He also provides the kingdom to you.” That is the upshot of Jesus’ statement: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Note that Jesus doesn’t talk about it being the Father’s good pleasure that you go on a quest for the kingdom or to figure out a way to obtain the kingdom. No, it is His good pleasure to give it to you.
There is more to life than a number of days on earth. There is an everlasting reality that the Father has established. But He has also provided the way for you to possess it. He wants to give it to you. So what has the Father done? He has given His Son to be the mediator of this kingdom. He has established His Son to be the way that you have entry into the kingdom. Not that you have to go and find a way into the kingdom; instead, the kingdom comes to you. It comes to you in the same way that the Father provides what you need to live on earth.
Think about what you need to live. You need food and drink and clothing. In a similar way, that is also what you need in this kingdom that the Father established. So He gives you food: the Father gives you Jesus, the Bread of Life that came down from heaven. So He gives you drink: the Father gives you Jesus, the well of everlasting water that springs up inside of you. So He gives you clothing: the Father gives you Jesus, the robe of righteousness that you put on in baptism. Why is this done? Because it isn’t the Father’s good pleasure just to mention that there is something more. No, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Your Father is a Giver, and He gives you the kingdom that is greater through His Son. And since He has given it to you, there is nothing to fear.
As Jesus has revealed this to you, then the change of thinking begins to be seen in you. First, the anxiety over what you will eat and drink or what you will put on starts to dissipate. The Father provides what you need to live through His creation. Whatever you don’t have is what you don’t need. Second, you begin to recognize the security found in having a place in the greater kingdom. You begin to act like you have an existence that is more than just the number of days that you have on this earth. God’s kingdom has been given to you; you have a place in it. So being engrossed and anxious about a place on earth isn’t your mindset anymore. Instead, your heart is set on the treasure that awaits you.
This is what faithful living looks like. You begin to meet the description given in the Epistle Reading about your spiritual ancestors: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.” They had a place in the kingdom, too. And so they followed in trust the way that God laid out for them. They lived in reliance on what He would provide.
The same is true for you. Jesus gives you the command: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” If you think that your life consists in the abundance of your possessions, then you would give nothing away. If you think that it is all up to you to accumulate what is needed, your minds would be devoted to that task, not caring for someone else’s needs. If you think that there is only life on earth, then you would stack up the moneybags full of dollars and build the biggest storage units to fill with stuff.
But that is not what you think. No, you have been given to know that such thinking ultimately is vanity. Your assurance and conviction are in what Jesus has made known to you. You believe that the Father provides what you need and that He has made you a conduit through which He provides for others. You believe that there is an eternal kingdom that the Father has made you part of. You believe that there is such a thing as being rich toward God, and that such treasure will never fail. That faith is created in you. Your reliance placed in God makes you righteous before Him. That trust exists in you, despite what you see all sorts of other people doing around you: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Your faith allows you to act differently in this world—to move away from anxiety about yourself and to enter into service of others.
Jesus has revealed to you the truth about life. He has torn down what is vain in you. He has built up what endures in its place. He has done so because the Father’s good pleasure is to have you in His kingdom, to feed you eternally, to clothe you with His glory. That treasure will not fail, no thief will take it from you, and no moth will destroy it. The place in the kingdom is yours now. Your experience of it will be even greater when Jesus returns. Then you will not only believe that you should be rich toward God; instead, all good things will be added to you beyond all measure.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.