Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew is one that is capable of being misread in a dangerous way.
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink,” Jesus tells his disciples. Among others, he gives the famous example of the wild flowers that grow without working and spinning, yet “not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.” God will provide it the message. And he adds, “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”
My concern is that this language that can easily be misused to promote a Prosperity Gospel: Follow God and you will be rewarded with earthly. And the more dangerous flip side: One’s material wealth is a sign of God’s favor.
The related concern is that the message not to worry about what you eat and drink becomes mistranslated into the idea that we need not worry about meeting the needs of our less fortunate brothers and sisters. God will feed them, God will clothe them, not my problem.
I don’t think one can read Jesus to suggest either of these, yet, I know there are people who hold these views based on language such as this.
There is no question Jesus wants us to trust in God, to know that we are more important to God than the birds of the air and the flowers in the field. And it is equally clear that the admonition to not be a worrywort is one many of us need. We get anxious about all sorts of things – little and big – and none of that anxiety “add[s] a single moment to your life-span.”
But one cannot read the life and teachings of Jesus as a whole and come to the conclusion either that we are not obligated to take care of the needs of our brothers and sisters (go and re-read the judgment passage in Matthew 25 and remind yourselves of how the sheep and goats are separated) or that following God means riches (take a look at the material state of many of Jesus’ followers.
The words must be read in the context of the opening line of today’s Gospel: “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and mammon.” The message here is clear: God comes first, which requires that we develop a proper relationship with the things of this world. They are here to help us in our growth toward God, but can never replace God as the center of our attention.
God comes first. And we can trust in God. But we are also called, as a manifestation of our love, to help the marginalized and those otherwise deprived of the means to live fully human lives. And while some of us may materially prosper, that prosperity is of value only if we use it in service of God and one another.