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. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And 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? 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. 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! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 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. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:22-40 ESV)
We build on last week’s Gospel – and in this part of the Church Year – Jesus is teaching his disciples about discipleship – not so much spiritual ‘stuff’ but practical, day-to-day, how we live with home and work, food and money, friends and enemies, getting married, having a family, dealing with the government ‘stuff’.
A religion can be practically ‘useless’ with its head in the clouds, so to speak, or it could be a program of social action which is supported by concepts of divinity and humanity. Jesus comes along and personalises everything by saying ‘Follow me’ and discipleship is about a relationship with God – which he establishes and guarantees – lived out in his world, following not concepts or principles – fairness, equality, justice, and so on – but following a person who teaches us his way of seeing and behaving in the world. And last week in the reading from Luke, Jesus was asked to arbitrate about possessions – an inheritance – and he declined to do so but instead told the parable which we know as ‘the rich fool’.
In essence Jesus was – and is! – asking the questions, ‘Who owns whom? Do we own our possessions or do our possessions own us?’
We know the answer we should give but we also know that it is hard because we live in the ‘real world’ and to have possession is about security and about living for tomorrow and the logic is simple – the more possessions we have, the more tomorrows we have. Of course, another part of reality can cut in or cut us down and make us realise that possessions don’t always equate with security but we’d still prefer to have more than less. And so we have an ambivalence – needing ‘stuff’ to live but also knowing that we need to get our relationship about having possessions or not having possessions understood because otherwise we are fearful and anxious. ‘Stuff’ simply causes a lot of anxiety. Too little causes anxiety. Too much causes anxiety.
And Jesus comes along and says about food and clothing – the necessities of life – don’t be anxious. Consider creation. It continues because God continually creates and cares. He’s not saying not to work but to remember who is behind the life of each generation.
Jesus continues. Seek God’s kingdom – have no fear for your heavenly Father has given you the kingdom – and yes, that is citizenship in the Kingdom of God. And then Jesus says ‘sell possessions’, ‘give to the needy’, ‘make purses that don’t wear out’ and talks about treasures and hearts. What and where is your treasure? That’s what and where your heart is.
A point to note is that here Jesus isn’t giving guidelines or suggestions or something for you to think about but the grammar are imperatives – that is, Jesus is giving orders or commands. This is the mark of discipleship. And Christians have been freaking about these commands ever since. In the history of the Church, followers of Jesus have sold everything and become beggars or not given a single pence to the needy and everything in between. Jesus doesn’t give amounts or circumstances or time frames because he is talking about relationships, discipleship, how to live in this world today in our relationships with family, neighbours, co-workers, friends, enemies and he is saying, ‘Follow me. Trust me. When it comes to stuff, your possessions, they are not to control you, own you but you use them in my name to benefit those around you.’ We must be careful about making Scripture say more than that it does – and of course, we can often make Scripture say less than it does because we don’t like discipleship – following someone.
We, by nature, want to strike out on our own. This week in my reading I came across the parable of the 5 wise and 5 foolish women waiting for the bridegroom with wisdom meaning that 5 women took an extra flask of oil for their lamps (Matthew 25:1-13). When the foolish women want some of the extra oil, the 5 wise don’t give them half or even sell it but tell the others to go and buy some – and while they are away doing that, the bridegroom arrives and later won’t let the foolish ones in who are late. That story has a message. If we want to align it with today’s teaching of Jesus then the 5 wise might be called the 5 selfish or disobedient. But we don’t do that for each story has its own message in the big picture story. God’s Word gives us a big picture – Genesis to Revelation – and specific pictures in the chapters and verses and reading well starts with not playing one off against the other, like children trying to play their parents off one against the other. Good parenting means that two speak as one even if they speak differently. And that’s how we read the Bible. What is the big picture? What is the context? What are the verses saying? What does it say to me in my situation today? The big picture is always about whether to trust God. The Old Testament people were called to trust God who would rain blessings on them because their land was not naturally lush like Egypt or Iraq but required rain. Could God be trusted? The big picture answer again and again is ‘Yes, God can be trusted’.
We ask the same questions because flood and famine don’t discriminate and Christians and nonChristians can die and we worry – become anxious. Can God be trusted? Do we concentrate then so much on our day to day living that we forget our real identities – children of God – 21st century Passover people clothed and ready – girded – for action – eating on the run almost? When Luke wrote his letter to Theophilus perhaps Jesus was already regarded as late in returning. How are we to live – what are we to do – while waiting?
Follow Jesus or follow our own desires? Can Jesus be trusted? And Jesus is saying that how we use our possessions, what we stress about are good indicators of where our heart is. This might all make us feel lousy. We’ll never get discipleship right sort of thing. But in all these words Jesus makes two promises – and they are not meant to scare us! 1. God has given us the kingdom (not as a secondary prize if we have a poor / bad life here on Earth); and 2. The Son of Man is coming – not to punish in the first instance but to do what he has always done – serve his people. It is an amazing picture – imagine – picture this that our God exists; he has created us; he has rescued us; he is patient with us and he blesses us, and then in Kingdom of God whether here and now or beyond time when we think God would rest and we serve him – what happens? God still serves us at the Messianic banquet! Can you see the picture? Life – the life of the disciple of Jesus – is one of blessings, harmony, service, love, care – people to each other undergirded by God serving us. Living in this world is about working out how to live this service life here. How to use possessions. How to stay focused. And for that task God uses words, water, bread and wine to help us stay focused … on Jesus! After all, the best life is always following him!
- Luke 12:22 - 40:9