22 To his disciples Yeshua said, “Because of this I tell you, don’t worry about your life — what you will eat or drink; or about your body — what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. 24 Think about the ravens! They neither plant nor harvest, they have neither storerooms nor barns, yet God feeds them. You are worth much more than the birds! 25 Can any of you by worrying add an hour to his life? 26 If you can’t do a little thing like that, why worry about the rest? 27 Think about the wild irises, and how they grow. They neither work nor spin thread; yet, I tell you, not even Shlomo in all his glory was clothed as beautifully as one of these. 28 If this is how God clothes grass, which is alive in the field today and thrown in the oven tomorrow, how much more will he clothe you! What little trust you have!
29 “In other words, don’t strive after what you will eat and what you will drink — don’t be anxious. 30 For all the pagan nations in the world set their hearts on these things. Your Father knows that you need them too. 31 Rather, seek his Kingdom; and these things will be given to you as well. 32 Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has resolved to give you the Kingdom! 33 Sell what you own and do good — make for yourselves purses that don’t wear out, riches in heaven that never fail, where no burglar comes near, where no moth destroys. 34 For where your wealth is, there your heart will be also.
Luke places the teaching of Jesus about wealth in the context of His journey to Jerusalem, indicating that if the reader wishes to accompany Jesus, there are crucial lessons to be learned. Matthew places the same teaching in the collection which English speakers know as the Sermon on the Mount, which Matthew probably intended as the new Torah of Jesus. The wording is almost identical in places. This led some scholars to postulate a written document as the common source ( German, Quelle) used by Matthew and Luke, sometimes called Q. I am not an expert, but there seems to me to be a spoken quality to this and similar passages of Jesus’ teaching. This cannot be the voice of Jesus as such, for he would have taught on his own language, Aramaic. But if we assume that quite early in the life of the Assemblies of Jesus, his teachings were translated into common Greek, which was spoken more or less everywhere in the Roman Empire, in a form that could be easily memorised, then we can imagine all believers learning these passages by heart. It would not be a difficult act of memory. I know most of them by heart in the KJV which I heard as a child, without consciously attempting to memorise them; and the people of Luke’s time would have used their memories much more frequently than anyone does today. My guess is that both Luke and Matthew were quoting from memory passages which all members of their Assemblies had already memorised. In this way the imprint of Jesus’ voice could have been transmitted over generations and in a different language until it was captured in writing.
In any case, what we have here is some of the most characteristic and profound of Jesus’ teachings. We should always be in awe of the wisdom and radicalism of these words.
Jesus directs his hearers to their own lives (literally, souls) and bodies, which he recognises as the focus of our concern. He is not going to say that mortal souls and bodies are of no account, as some of his ascetic followers have done. No, he wants to convince us that our souls and bodies are of such great account that our Heavenly Father takes care of them. And lest we imagine the Father anxiously intervening to feed and clothe his children, Jesus points to the ravens and the wild flowers which have neither barns nor Prada but are well resourced by the Father of all. They draw food and beauty from the natural ecosystems in which the creator has placed them. The readers or hearers of this teaching are commanded to look at these creatures, as perhaps Jesus looked at them, and educated to appreciate the web of life which the Father has woven. Human beings may be a more important part of this web of care, but at least they should see themselves as part of it.
If they don’t see themselves in this way, that’s because of their human “anxiety”. The Greek verb is “merimnao” which signifies a persistent and excessive concern about something. We all know it, even if we have a comfortable income and dwelling. Jesus is reminding people that God-given resources are around us; all we have to do is to learn to use them rightly. Jesus was not naive; he knew that some people were always trying to corner an unjust amount of God’s common provision for their own exclusive use. He condemned the behaviour of the wealthy, and encouraged his followers not to imitate them, but to recognise how little we are in charge of our own destinies. Can we make ourselves taller? We like ravens and wild irises are limited by our position in the web of life. Before we start trying to jump out of it, we should learn what it offers to us.
That’s not to say that Jesus expected his followers to be merely passive recipients of life. He had after all been a builder, and many of his followers had been fishermen. He understood that families had to work for their livelihood; but not with anxiety and not as their prime objective, like those with no trust in God. His followers are to make the Rule of God their first objective, the same Rule that provides for Ravens and wild flowers, for God rules by sharing his goodness. The announcement of this goodness and the readiness to share it with others, is the prime objective of Jesus’ disciples. All their other needs will met if they get their priorities right.
Faith is needed for this. How about the mortgage? What if I lose my job? Will my kids thank me for not being able to give them what their mates have? Of course there are real fears. Jesus recognises this natural reaction. “Don’t be afraid, the Father has resolved to give you his Rule.” He reminds them that they are not to accumulate wealth in property but rather to share it in acts of compassion and justice, which are the sort of wealth that counts with God, and in time with us also. When we know our true wealth, we will find our hearts are naturally turned towards it. The sober intelligence of Jesus’ aphorism, ” Where your wealth is, there your heart will be also,” makes it unforgettable.
Imagining life under the Rule of God in the world today is a matter of urgent necessity. Anxiety and greed for possessions are laying waste the ecosystems that support the ravens, the irises and humanity. We should pay special attention to the ordinary saints who have imagined how to live by Jesus’ wisdom and even more, have done it. Recently I’ve been reading the American farmer, ecologist and poet, Wendell Berry, whom I consider as one these saints. If you google his name, you will discover that you can easily purchase his books, which are full of down-to-earth visions of justice.