This week I preach on Luke 12:22-34. This is the Lukan treatment of Jesus commanding his disciples “not to worry.” It follows directly on the heels of Jesus telling the parable of the barn builder.
Some weeks the text is like an exciting and challenging puzzle. “What does God have to say to us this week through this text?” Sometimes the murkier it is the more fun. This is not such a week. Throughout my study of Luke (the advantage of remaining in one book a long time) the meaning of this passage is very clear, and devastating.
Some passages are devastating because they tell me something I very much don’t want to hear or be heard saying. They are telling me I am sinner and something in my life needs correction or reform. Not this text. This text is promising and optimistic, but given our context I can hardly read it and not see an impending failure.
Jesus clearly wishes to pull the camera lens back and see our lives between birth and death within a far larger narrative, one that began at a point (we’re not Mormons you know) and goes off neverendingly. Within this perspective, of the age of decay and the age to come Jesus’ advice is utter obviousness. In the text Jesus expands our view far enough to see the Father, his power and his love and invites us to see him too.
Why do I shudder in reading this, contemplating trying to present it as a sermon? Because everything in our context stands against this text. Pagans of many varieties wouldn’t be terribly upset by this text. A subtle misreading of it could have it happily lodge in many different religious and worldviews.
Tim Keller a couple of months ago had a sermon where he related a passage from Jane Eyre where Jane, an orphan who had lived a terrible life on principle rejects the proposal to live with a man married to a woman debilitated by mental illness. Jane stands on principle as Rochester pleads for mercy from her. Won’t she save his life by giving him her life in the closest proxy to marriage they could fabricate? She resists and refuses. She will not. She advices him to place his hope in heaven.
This is alien language to our age. Never has a society been so focused upon seeking an experiential quality of material life from birth to death. Questions of life beyond the grave have been nicely set aside by insisting that whatever may be found out amidst the cacophony of religious perspectives we can be assured that everything will be fine. Hell is just a cruel fairy tale told by bitter people. God will assuredly shrug and mutter “oh, just don’t worry about it” when it comes to questions of retribution for the pain inflicted in this world.
Being assured that any after-death obligations or remedies are of no concern we busily seek to make things just as dandy as we can for as many people as we can. Maximize pleasure, minimize pain from zero to 90 is our summun bonum. We have taken this passage and turned it on its head. We declare “be anxious for everything in this age but have no care for the age to come.”
Anxiety for this age is in fact a vital obligation. We are supposed to be very afraid of liberals or conservatives, of Russians or Muslim terrorists, of global warming or the economic devastation proposed by those who believe in global warming. Being anxious is exactly what ought to fuel all moral activity according to both the religious and secular prophets among us. Be mad, get angry, lift your voice, sign a petition, write a letter, boycott a hater or a nut.
Jesus’ voice sounds irresponsible and crazy. The anxiety of the young man in the previous story who tried to leverage Jesus against his old brother in order to extract the inheritance rightly due him is misguided. Jesus’ disciples are to live a different way. The vision of the scope and depth of the deliverance Jesus has assured them of from the Father should vastly overshadow all of the most common anxiety causing things around them. This anxiety is simply foolish and a waste of time and Jesus does nothing less than command them to put it away like some piece of stinky refuse.
There is no waiting to enter Jesus’ parade, the nations are all marching in the anxious parade.
The irony that comes at the end of the passage is that Jesus’ disciples also will bless this age, in fact he expects they will do so to such a degree that everyone in the other parade calls them irresponsible. They will be kind, gracious and generous to the poor and suffering of this world not fueled from some abstract notion of “duty to your fellow human being” but rather of heirs of the kingdom of everything whose smallest coin outweighs the treasuries of mighty nations. The disciples of Jesus are children of the great king, inheritors of the earth and so much more. They can be free with their money, free with their time, free with their stuff because it is less than the spare change compared to what is coming to them.
All of this is clear, and none of this is new, but I know it won’t be believed for long. Maybe for a few moments we’ll have a vision of the reality that Jesus paints and this will give us a moment of exhilaration and joy but quickly everything else around us will come rushing back and we will be gripped with the anxieties of the age of decay.
The really good news is the fact that he tells us that our inheritance is surer still than our ability to believe it and focus and capture that belief in our minds. If the truth of the reality Jesus paints was dependent upon my ability to believe it then his truth would be worthless, but instead its dependent upon the Father’s love and will to deliver it to me. When I think of that I am more encourages still.