J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
25-30 “That is why I say to you, don’t worry about living—wondering what you are going to eat or drink, or what you are going to wear. Surely life is more important than food, and the body more important than the clothes you wear. Look at the birds in the sky. They never sow nor reap nor store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you much more valuable to him than they are? Can any of you, however much he worries, make himself an inch taller? And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how the wild flowers grow. They neither work nor weave, but I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed like one of these! Now if God so clothes the flowers of the field, which are alive today and burnt in the stove tomorrow, is he not much more likely to clothe you, you ‘little-faiths’?
31-33 “So don’t worry and don’t keep saying, ‘What shall we eat, what shall we drink or what shall we wear?! That is what pagans are always looking for; your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Set your heart on the kingdom and his goodness, and all these things will come to you as a matter of course.
34 “Don’t worry at all then about tomorrow. Tomorrow can take care of itself! One day’s trouble is enough for one day.”
This teaching runs counter to the everyday imperative of all life, to find food. What on earth does it mean to say that life is “more important than food” when life requires food for its survival? Of course we think our lives are more important than food, that’s why we urgently seek food for them. As for the birds; they have to look for food or kill for food; and if they find none, they die. How can we say that the “heavenly father feeds them?” When the heavenly father failed to feed them two winters ago, when it was unusually cold, I and many other people did so. And naturalists tell us that the colours of wild flowers have developed to attract pollinators or seed-scatterers t assist reproduction. Their beauty has a purpose; it is not a casual adornment.
And yet we feel that Jesus is saying something profound.
So let’s assume he knew the kind of responses I’ve made above. Perhaps he’s saying that life is more “important” than all that is required to sustain it? But then we would have to point out that “life” is nothing other than this strange mechanism which must and can find its own source of energy. Life which fails to do this soon ceases to be life. Or is he saying that most of the time the ecosystem ( the heavenly father) provides enough food for most life? But isn’t it just as true to say that most of the time the ecosystem fails to provide enough food for all the life that dies, while also requiring some of the life to become food for other life?
We have to assume that Jesus knew all this as well.
We are left with the probability that Jesus considered “life” somehow more important than all its biological determinants; and that human beings should value the gift of life more than their own survival. Being alive today is more important than being alive tomorrow. Jesus is saying that if we can free ourselves from the fear of death (and from all the ways in which we try to forget death-our fine clothes, for example); and if we can focus instead on the common life of those who trust God’s goodness ( the kingdom) and God’s provision, we shall be able to live splendidly.
It’s vital to see this teaching minus the sentimentality with which comfortable people have often invested it. If we do not see its absurdity we will not see its truth. I think Jesus probably lived this way but I know I don’t. I admire the way Jesus lived but asking me to do the same is a big ask. But that’s Christianity, I guess.