“Tomorrow will take care of itself”

Have faith; the heavenly Father will provide. Jesus tells us so in Matthew 6:24-34.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

This is one of the most poetic passages of the Gospels of Jesus the Christ. The images are beautiful and the metaphors are reassuring. Yet, everything is down-to-earth, simple. In essence, He says, don’t worry, the Father will provide; instead, focus on the long game and living rightly.

Now, I recognize that this is hard advice to heed when things aren’t going well: When you’re poor or homeless or jobless or otherwise without sufficient resources. And when there’s any other kind of downturn in your life. Or when the world has taken a turn for the could-care-less. But Christ has said before, “Don’t be afraid; have faith.”

I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I have prayed for help, fretted over a need or a worry, and in the end, it was when I handed them over to God in faith – your will be done – that my prayers were answered. Of course He likes us to come to Him with our concerns, petition Him with our needs, confide in Him with our worries. But what He wants is for us to trust in Him to provide. And in this passage from Matthew, Jesus us tells us, God takes care of all the beasts in the wild, how much more will He do for us?

Sometimes God provides for us directly. Sometimes He inspires others to help us. That’s where I think the “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” comes in. Righteousness isn’t just sticking ardently to the laws and rules we hear about. It’s also living by the commandments Jesus said were the most important: Love God, love one another; look out for those in need — the least of our brothers and sisters.

And thus Jesus tells us, “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” The truly righteous will be there for you, too. If we just love one another and focus on that, as an extension of our love for God, there will be no needy and there will be no worry. If you think helping others creates dependency, and deep down you believe this is a reason to not help others, you haven’t been listening to Jesus. If judging the motivations (or, in this case, the lack of motivation) of others is your action plan, you haven’t been paying attention to Jesus’ sermons. God wants you to help others, not judge them.

Jesus seeks to promote what is the best in us. All of us. He believes we are all redeemable. That’s why He died on the cross for us, because none of us is a lost cause. And none of us is more worthy than another. And Jesus wants us to help each other through the rough times, even through the normal times, so we don’t have to worry about “tomorrow.”

God has our backs, providing for us Himself and inspiring others of us to help. Don’t worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me”

Who is a “child”, and how should we treat him or her? Jesus tells us in Mark 9:30-37.

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee,
but he did not wish anyone to know about it.
He was teaching his disciples and telling them,
“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”
But they did not understand the saying,
and they were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
“What were you arguing about on the way?”
But they remained silent.
For they had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Taking a child, he placed it in their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”

I was torn between highlighting today’s quote and the one below it. Both teach us important and eminent points in today’s world.

In the first stanzas above it, the disciples are discussing who among them is the greatest disciple. When Jesus asks them what they were discussing, they were silent, because they knew what they were discussing would displease Him. And He tells them, anyone who wants to be first will be the last and will serve everyone else. To further teach them, Jesus embraces a child and says, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.”

What or who is a child? It’s not just someone between 2 and 12. Metaphorically, it’s someone innocent in the world. Psychologically, it’s someone with a simple view of the world. Criminally, though they may get into mischief, it is someone who has not knowingly done evil things in the world. Sociologically, it’s someone fresh to the world. In all ways, a child is someone to be protected and nurtured and welcomed, given sanctuary from the impositions of the world.

Jesus says, whoever protects, nurtures, and welcomes one of these, gives them sanctuary from the world, does so to Him. And in the reverse, anyone who doesn’t protect, nurture, and welcome and give sanctuary, denies it to Jesus.

In the quote that follows what I highlighted, Jesus says, “Whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me” – the Father. If you deny protection, nurturing, welcome, and sanctuary to the child, you deny it to the Father. And that doesn’t necessarily mean denying it physically to the Father, but in your heart.

There are many children in our world who desperately need our protection, our nurturing, our welcome, and our sanctuary. The abused, the unwanted, the poor, the displaced, the orphaned, and the refugee. And among the “children” are the innocent of society who though they may have faults are innocents in their situations, including adult immigrants and refugees. To deny any of these our help is to deny Jesus the Christ and, in Jesus’ own words, to deny the One who sent Him, the Father.

At the beginning of the month, we heard Jesus calm our fears by saying, “Don’t be afraid; just have faith.” That was to calm those who feared that someone had died, but He would say the same thing to us today in this instance. Don’t be afraid of helping others because we fear we cannot make a difference or because we fear they are not like us. Do not fear others because we judge them unworthy by their station in life. Do not fear others because we do not know them personally or because they are not of our group or tribe. None of that is Christ like. Do not be afraid; have faith in God’s compassion and mercy.

Do not deny Christ and do not deny the Father. They love you. And they want you to love others, especially the “child” among us. Jesus, the Father – God – commands us to love and serve all, for he who seeks to be first will be the last and the servant of all.

“Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect”

In Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus teaches us how to be perfect.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand over your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

That’s some tall order, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” When I first read it, I thought it meant to be as perfect as the heavenly Father. But the placement of the comma is important. Jesus is saying act as our heavenly Father would act. Act out of love.

Today as in Jesus’ time, this is a pretty controversial call to be good to our enemies and persecutors. Love them and pray for them, Jesus says. In today’s day of hyper partisanship and deep cultural divide, everyone seems to be the enemy. If you don’t agree with me, you should be condemned in the strongest terms. It’s my posse versus your posse. You’re the sinner, not me. And if you dare cross me, I not only will strike back but I will make your life a living hell. But Jesus says, the Father makes His sun rise on the bad and the good, the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. An eye for an eye? Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said you were better to pluck out your own eye, cut off your right hand, if it offends.

No, Jesus calls on us to be “children of your heavenly Father.” Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you. In terms of the Beatitudes, be a peacemaker. Offer no resistance to the one who is evil. If he strikes you, don’t strike back; give him the opportunity to strike you again. That’s the hardest one to obey.

Then Jesus tells us how to treat one another, good or evil. If someone goes to court over your tunic, throw in your cloak. If someone presses you into service for a mile, give him two. Never turn down someone who asks of you; never refuse anyone who asks to borrow.

If you love only those who love you… if you greet your brothers only… don’t unbelievers and sinners do that, too? What marks us as followers of Christ is our devotion to loving our neighbors as ourselves, as Jesus commands us. And sometimes our neighbors are our enemies and persecutors. Be perfect in love as God is perfect in love. If you strive for perfection, strive in this.

“Do you still not understand?”

The faithless seek signs; the faithful show mercy, as we read in Mark 8:11-26.

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus,
seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.
He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said,
“Why does this generation seek a sign?
Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
Then he left them, got into the boat again,
and went off to the other shore.

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread,
and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
Jesus enjoined them, “Watch out,
guard against the leaven of the Pharisees
and the leaven of Herod.”
They concluded among themselves that
it was because they had no bread.
When he became aware of this he said to them,
“Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread?
Do you not yet understand or comprehend?
Are your hearts hardened?
Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?
And do you not remember,
when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand,
how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?”
They answered him, “Twelve.”
“When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand,
how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?”
They answered him, “Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?

When Jesus and his disciples arrived at Bethsaida,
people brought to him a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.
He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village.
Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on the man and asked,
“Do you see anything?”
Looking up the man replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.”
Then he laid hands on the man’s eyes a second time and he saw clearly;
his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.
Then he sent him home and said, “Do not even go into the village.”

He sighed from the depth of his spirit. Do you not weep for Jesus? The Pharisees continually argue with Jesus; He must be so frustrated at their intransigence, at their lack of faith despite their position of religious authority, at their lack of vision despite their command of the scriptures. Yet here He is again, before them, they demanding a “sign from heaven.” No sign will be given them.

And then He is confronted by the disciples, who have forgotten to bring bread. It doesn’t say as much, but I get the sense they want Him to make a miracle and feed them. He must be exasperated. “Guard against the leaven of the Pharisees,” He warns them. Guard against seeking miracles or signs from heaven. He reminds them He has already produced miracles in feeding the thousands from the bread of the few, but not to satisfy the Pharisees and Herod, only to satisfy the needs of the hungry. To serve humanity!

Then He comes upon the blind man, whose sight he restores. When Jesus sends him home, Jesus tells him, “Do not even go into the village.” Don’t go where the crowds are; don’t show off this miracle to satisfy the Pharisees.

Jesus was never about producing miracles for the faithless, as a sideshow. Jesus was always about serving the needy. He cured the sick, gave sight to the blind, fed the hungry, not as a way to prove who He was but as a way to bring comfort in a time of need to the faithful. “Do you still not understand?” He asks the disciples.

In a time when churches fill with people seeking miracles, when preachers fill churches by offering to do miracles like a circus sideshow, and when preachers offer up everyday disasters as signs (or miracles) of God’s reaction to people’s sins, this passage from Mark should tell us what God thinks of such theatrics. We aren’t miraculously cured by people but by God; God doesn’t do signs on demand; God doesn’t whip up disasters to punish — Jesus didn’t once whip up a disaster against the wicked in any of the Gospels! To the contrary, Jesus calmed the storm at sea to save the disciples. And Jesus always acted in the best interest of the needy, telling them it was their faith that saved them.

Do you still not understand, Jesus asks us. His works weren’t about working miracles or producing signs. His works were those of mercy and compassion done out of love. And as He commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves, He expects us to likewise do works of mercy and compassion.

Love God and hear His words. Love your neighbor and show him or her mercy.

“Your light must shine before others”

In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus speaks of salt and a city and light, an interesting mixture of allusions. But they are all united in one point, which is our role as Christians.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”

Jesus uses a couple of allusions in his parable from the Gospel of Matthew. One is salt, a very common but powerful spice. The other light, a common but very powerful way to dispel darkness. Both He uses to explore the role of His disciples take in shaping His mission to save mankind.

On the one hand, Jesus says that His disciples – us, really – are the salt of the earth. We stand out among others like salt stands out when applied to food. It gives flavor and often it keeps food from going bad. But what happens when salt gets old or stale? What happens when we lose our fervor in faith or Christ-based actions? In His allusion, salt is trampled under good or thrown out. It is of no use. Outside of the allusion, Christ’s work goes undone.

“A city on a mountain cannot be hidden.” What does that mean? In this allusion, Christ’s mission and our work for Him cannot go undone. If we are weak or lose direction, it must continue. We must be driven by God’s love and find anew our love of Him.

So, then, the allusion to light. Light doesn’t just illuminate. It also brightens and warms and welcomes. And when we light a lamp we set it on a light stand — we “put it out there” to be seen, to be found, to be welcomed by. And Jesus says that we must be a light before others, a bright, warm, welcoming disciple of Christ who by our works give glory to our heavenly Father, if not by our words certainly by our good deeds.

Are you salt or are you light? Do you shine or do you hide?

Some see this passage as a call to proselytize. I see it as a call to be more Christ like, to humble ourselves in service to others with a warm heart and a glad smile, the light shining from our countenance. That we are to gladly love others as God loves us and so to glorify God by that love.

“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

What is our response to peril? Fear or faith? We learn in Mark 5:21-43 how to respond.

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side,
a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea.
One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.
Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying,
“My daughter is at the point of death.
Please, come lay your hands on her
that she may get well and live.”
He went off with him
and a large crowd followed him.

There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.
She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors
and had spent all that she had.
Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.
She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd
and touched his cloak.
She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”
Immediately her flow of blood dried up.
She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him,
turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?”
But his disciples said to him,
“You see how the crowd is pressing upon you,
and yet you ask, Who touched me?”
And he looked around to see who had done it.
The woman, realizing what had happened to her,
approached in fear and trembling.
She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.
Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

While he was still speaking,
people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said,
“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”
Disregarding the message that was reported,
Jesus said to the synagogue official,
Do not be afraid; just have faith.
He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside
except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.
When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official,
he caught sight of a commotion,
people weeping and wailing loudly.
So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”
And they ridiculed him.
Then he put them all out.
He took along the child’s father and mother
and those who were with him
and entered the room where the child was.
He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,
which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.
At that they were utterly astounded.
He gave strict orders that no one should know this
and said that she should be given something to eat.

When we find ourselves in peril it’s natural to shift into defense mode, to be fearful and try to hide. Sometimes “fight or flight” instead of “In God We Trust.” In this passage from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus shows us we have nothing to fear. “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

You might think, “That’s easier said than done.” It’s true, it’s hard when faced with peril to focus on trust. If our lives don’t have a foundation of faith, it’s especially hard. But if we focus on that faith during times when we aren’t in peril, when things are going relatively well, or even when things aren’t going so well but we aren’t in peril, we can learn to trust God and see that He has our back. Then when something truly horrific happens, the leap of faith isn’t such a stretch for us.

For those of us who haven’t exercised our  faith over time, however, we will eventually be faced with situations that will truly test us. And that’s when we must remember Jesus’ calming words: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Let His assurance set us at ease. Let His confidence give us confidence in Him. And remember that He has said before, whatever you ask the Father in Jesus’ name, He will give you. We’re not talking baubles and riches, we’re talking about when you really need something.

In this passage from Mark, the father of the sick girl comes to Jesus full of faith. He’s afraid for his daughter’s life, but he is full of faith that Jesus can save her. Likewise, the woman afflicted with hemorrhages comes to Jesus full of faith that if she just touches Jesus’ garment it will heal her. “Your faith has saved you,” He tells her, sending her on her way cured. These weren’t people that Jesus sought out to be examples. In fact, often Jesus tells people that He has helped not to tell anyone. But these are people Jesus rewards for their faith.

When you feel fear, remember: Don’t be afraid. Compose yourself. Look to God. And have faith. He is there listening.

One more thing strikes me. In the Old Testament, the emphasis was on fear of God. In the New Testament, here, Jesus tells us not to fear but to have faith. And in other places, Jesus tells us to love God — no focus on fear. What a wonderful gift to have a loving Father to embrace instead of fear. Praise be to God!