Picture reading a book. There is a scene in which two of the central characters, a couple, are sitting in a restaurant together Over at another table a man and a woman are sitting. Suddenly their conversation erupts. They get loud; she stands up, picks up her water glass and tosses it at him, drenching his suit. She storms out leaving him sitting there wet, and now, alone. The two main characters look at each other wide-eyed. The man asks, “What was that about?” To which the woman replies, “Who cares?”
What did she mean? Since we were reading, we didn’t hear the tone in her voice. She could have meant, “I don’t care; none of my business.” Or she could have been thinking about what just happened, and think – that happens when someone in a relationship was not caring. The question is, “Who cares?” Does the man care about the woman? Does the woman care more than the man? Does the caring extend to the point of faithfulness or has their been betrayal? Has one cared so little that now, the relationship is broken?
I want us to consider the question “Who cares?” in both senses today as we look at this important text from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The question, “Who Cares?” has two fronts. First it is a question about our place in the world: Who Cares about our lives? Are we on our own? Or is Someone there for us? Second, if there is Someone who cares for us, who cares? Do we care? If Someone cares, how should we then live?
First Matters: Jesus
Before we dive into this passage together we need to be clear about one issue; let’s call it the elephant in the room. Does Jesus make any sense in the real world, or was he a mystic whose words, as nice as they sound, simply don’t work? Are Jesus’ teachings simply nobel ideas that look beautiful represented in stained glass, or do they work out on the street, where fuel prices are rising, the whole Middle East is in revolution, and where our deeply divided nation faces an uncertain future? What does it practically mean to follow Jesus?
As I have said before, it is a great conundrum of Christianity in our day: that it is more common to find people who worship Jesus than those who follow Jesus. But Jesus did not tell people to worship him, he told them to follow him. Of course after the resurrection, when they finally saw him for who he was, they worshipped him (remember formerly doubting Thomas, seeing his scares, confessing “My Lord and my God!”). But worship without following was not an option Jesus ever intended to leave open. We are here to learn how to follow Jesus.
What did Jesus mean then when he said,
25“I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Was it just pious nonsense? Clearly not. Here is why. Though Jesus called his inner circle of disciples to leave their fishing business behind and follow him full-time, they still had to eat and sleep. Somebody had to have a job, and a house, and in fact there were those who did. Jesus and the twelve had people who provided support for them. He and the disciples ate food they provided and stayed in their homes as he traveled in ministry.
His own lifestyle, then, was not a demand that everyone abandon property and employment and move out to the desert as monks in a commune. Other groups did that in his day – he did not.
So when Jesus taught those people who came to the mountain that day, he was being realistic. In fact, most of the people he was teaching that day were at the margins. They were people whose lives were filled with sun-up to sun-down back-breaking toil, just to put “daily bread” on the table for their families.
It was to people with calloused hands and sunburned necks that Jesus said,
26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
It is the opposite of irrelevant pious nonsense. It is the most crucial, fundamental thought you will ever have. What is your life all about? Why are you here? Is it simply to keep fed and clothed until you reproduce and then to make sure the next generation is fed and clothed so that you can have grandchildren to feed and clothe? Is there a point to all of this?
Jesus asks a question that is as serious as it gets:
“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
This really comes down to the question, “Who cares?” “Is there Someone up there who cares about me, who is looking after me, who has made me for a purpose greater than daily bread?
Does Someone Care?
Jesus’ very practical answer to the hard-working people of Palestine who had to labor for
their food and clothing was,
32 “… your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”
Who cares? Your Father in Heaven cares! And, because there is Someone who cares, your life is about so much more than food and clothing, there is no comparison. Of course you need food and clothing, and fuel and a home, as well as health care, insurance, utilities and all kinds of things. He knows all that. Rest easy! He cares. These concerns are legitimate. But they are not ultimate.
Do We Care?
So now we have answered the first form of the “Who cares?” question: our Heavenly Father cares. Now to the second form of the question: Do we care that He cares? If we have a Heavenly Father who cares, how should we then live?
Jesus had two kinds of followers: his inner circle of disciples that left their jobs to work full time in ministry with him, and the thousands of others who followed him by embracing his vision of the Heavenly Father who cares, and the present reality of the Kingdom of God. To these many, who did not leave their jobs, he required a kind of following that was intentional and active. In fact there is no such thing as a passive follower of Jesus. To them – to us – he gave this imperative:
33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Strive for the Kingdom
This is an excellent translation: “strive for the kingdom of God!” The old translations and the song said, “seek first the kingdom of God” – which is good, but “strive for” is closer to what Jesus said.
To “strive for” the kingdom means to make it our top priority, or as one scholar put it, to make the kingdom of God “the center of one’s existence and thus experience the rule of God fully in one’s heart” (Donald A. Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 33A, p. 166)
So let us be practical; how should we then live? How do we show that we care that there is a Heavenly Father who cares?
There are two parts of this, like two sides of a coin that cannot exist separately if we are to follow Jesus.
Striving for the kingdom Personally, Daily
Striving for the kingdom of God and his righteousness has to be something we do individually and internally. This is about personal spirituality. There is no such thing as spiritual maturity that happens automatically, even over a long time.
You can live in Mexico for years and never learn Spanish if you don’t work on it. In the same way, a person can be a passive church member his whole life long, without maturing spiritually. Striving for the kingdom of God means daily time, a daily discipline of prayer, scripture, and reflection.
There is no other way to acquire the non-anxious life that Jesus spoke of. There is no other way to actually come to believe at the center of our hearts that life is more than food and the body more than clothing. The fruit of these conclusions does not drop down from us from heaven; it grows in soil that is watered and tended daily.
Striving for the kingdom Publicly
Striving for the kingdom of God and his righteousness has another side that must not be neglected, the public side.
We are called not to be anxious about our food and clothing, but this does not mean we neglect the people around us who are in need. If Jesus taught us anything it is clear that in his kingdom, the poor, the weak, the outcast, the sick are provided for. Striving for the righteousness of the kingdom is all about striving for our neighbor’s well-being.
“As much as you did… you did it for me”
In fact, later in Matthew’s gospel, we will hear Jesus say that every cup of water given to a thirsty person, he will count as a cup given to him, personally (Matt 25). Every plate of food served to a hungry person he will take as food given to him. He instructs us to see his face in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and the imprisoned.
There is nothing passive about striving for the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Who cares? God cares for us, and sets us free from a life of anxiety and self-absorbed meaninglessness. We have a Father in Heaven who is watching over us and knows we have practical needs.
Who cares? We care, and we show it in practical concrete ways every day of our lives, privately and publicly. We care about our own spiritual condition; we refuse to be people of slothful negligence. We will be people of prayer and reflection; people who grow up spiritually.
And we will be people who care about people. We will be people who see the face of Jesus in every person in need. And we will be people who reach out in practical ways, with time, with money, with votes, and with love.
Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Yes it is!