Posts Tagged ‘Matthew’

A sermon preached at Wethersfield Evangelical Free Church, Wethersfield, Connecticut, USA on 3 December 2022


Yesterday, Karen and I each celebrated a very special day in our home across the river in Portland.

We were there at the same time, breathing the same air, inhabiting the same space … walking the same dog.

But the special day we celebrated was different in each case. She had hers … and I had mine.

My special day was defined by USA vs. the Netherlands in the knock-out stage of the World Cup. Now I know that some of you don’t believe that the World Cup every fourth year represents the pinnacle of sports and that we should all join the rest of the world in just stopping everything else we were doing and taking in the spectacle. Can I just say, in a spirit of transparency, I just don’t get that. But we can talk about it at another time.

In any case, my special day was over before noon. It ended in sadness, to the tune of 3-1 Netherlands, USA goes home, seeya’ again in four years, hopefully this time with Colombia in the mix of national teams that classify. It’s so cruel…

On the other hand, Karen’s special day was just getting up its head of steam by noon as mine was ending in tears. It was a much happier celebration than mine: She turned our home into a Christmas miracle. 

The tree is up, more beautiful than ever, and lit so you can see it from the front street. The dining room is as Christmasy as a dining room can be, all ready for the onslaught of family that will begin in another two weeks. We calculate that we’ll even have enough chairs for everybody this year, which will represent a Hospitality Personal Best for the Baers.

In fact, it even smells like Christmas over there, and I have no idea how that even works.

So as of yesterday by about 4:30 in the afternoon, the Baers are ready for Christmas. 

Even though my special day was not such a happy one, it did have the silver lining of becoming the day when I begin my annual practice of re-reading the passages in our New Testament that tell what we’ve come to call ‘The Christmas Story’.

I love doing this. The combination of familiarity … on the one hand … and a fresh reading … on the other … are always life-giving for me. And I find that I’m once again captivated by one of the ‘bit players’ in the Christmas Drama: Joseph

In fact, if anybody asks me what I want for Christmas this year, my answer is gonna’ be this: I wanna’ be Joseph

Maybe I can persuade you to join me. Maybe our gift to those nearest to us this year can be being more like Joseph than we used to be.

Let me see whether I can find the words to tell you about this guy as I’m encountering him…

Joseph is like a neighbor whom I assumed I knew, but on further reflection I discover that I didn’t really know him at all.

Now Christian art and tradition—especially at this time of the year—provides for Joseph a large place. He kind of looms over the manger scenes you see around, like a slightly gawky uncle who hangs around but doesn’t say much. 

But in Scripture, Joseph is nearly always in the shadows of people who seem to be more important than he is. And then, when the scene has finished, Joseph is quickly forgotten.

Yet none of the Christmas Story would have happened if Joseph had not given his assent and played his role.

I find myself wondering whether I am willing to find my place in the shadows of people who are more important than I am. And whether I am prepared to be quickly forgotten.

All year long, I live a version of this question in my morning prayers. You see, I use a model for prayer that some of you use to shape your own spiritual discipline. 

You see, I’m an early riser, but I’m a cranky early riser.

I make my coffee, then I find my favorite chair, and I set the table for my conversation with God as some of you do ….

  • I am a Son – Deeply loved by God.
  • I am a Servant – Called to put the needs of others above myself.
  • I am a Steward – Called to invest what God has given me to the work of his kingdom.

More days than not, that second breathed prayer: I am a servant … called to put the needs of others above myself … plows the furrow that my life will follow for the next 14 or 15 hours. I can almost feel my heart settle into its rightful place as I make that daily affirmation of reality before God.

Though I wouldn’t have given it this name before yesterday, it strikes me now that it’s a kind of Joseph Prayer, one that our man Joseph might have been comfortable praying himself.

And now because of the unexpected turn of events that has Pastor Scott home sick and me standing here opening the Word of God for the People of God this morning, I can appropriately turn my own encounter with Joseph … overshadowed, obedient, forgettable Joseph … into a question for you, my sisters and brothers in Christ: Are you likely to choose a place in the shadows of people who are more important than you are? Are you willing to be quickly forgotten?

*   *   *

Let’s dive into the biblical portrayal of Joseph.

Joseph is remembered only in the two ‘infancy narratives’ found in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.

The Matthew account revolves around Joseph without exactly exalting him, while in Luke the focus is very much on Mary. 

In Matthew, Joseph receives something of the honor that would seem to be due to the husband of Mary and the father figure in the home of our Lord.  Still, he is hardly a highly revered figure in Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth. The spotlight falls on Joseph when the story requires it. But it doesn’t linger or stay with Joseph longer than it needs to.

For me, the most beguiling aspect of Joseph’s legacy is how he is not remembered. After the incident in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old, Joseph is not mentioned again in the entire New Testament except in a few instances where Jesus is called ‘the son of Joseph’ or ‘the carpenter’s son’.

But already I am getting ahead of myself and forgetting Joseph almost before I have remembered him. This, it seems, happens often with Joseph, standing there in the shadows and vulnerable to our forgetfulness as important events swirl around him.

  • Let’s peer into Joseph’s legacy as it comes to us in Matthew 1.16—2.23.
    • a righteous man and unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace …

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

Matthew 1:18-19 (ESV)

Now I wonder whether you learned this remarkable glimpse of Joseph the way I did in my youth. It’s a strange thing, because our English Bible translations going back to the King James Version get it right. Yet somehow I understood that Moses was just—obedient to God’s savage and unyielding Law—yet somehow at the same time unwilling to put Mary to shame. In this, my boyhood understanding of this fascinating passage, Joseph was more merciful than God’s Law. His heart won out over his head.

But the biblical text suggests that this was not his dilemma. In fact, because he was a just man, he was not willing to throw Mary under the bus as he could well have done if he had been out to protect his own reputation above all else. In Joseph, his alignment with God’s own heart was the very thing that moved him to treat Mary with nobility and kindness, even at the risk of his own name. God’s Law had formed him to be this kind of man.

Already, Joseph becomes a human figure, forced to accommodate competing claims, to make the most of a situation that is complex and not of his making. In his patriarchal culture, where it falls to Joseph to call the shots on how to deal with Mary and her situation, he risks himself to care for her, without telling us in any detail how he feels about the awkwardness of his situation.  Already, I begin to like this Joseph, to feel that he knows something about the competing claims on my life …

  • promptly responsive to God-given dreams and God-sent angels …

Lots of markers in this text describe not just the sequence of Joseph’s response, but the promptness of it.

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him:

Matthew 1:24 (ESV)

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by nightand departed to Egypt …

Matthew 2:13-14 (ESV)

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

Matthew 2:19-21 (ESV)

Brothers and sisters, the languages of the Bible have their ways of giving us cues about the speed or the sloooooowwwneeees of the events they narrate to us. These texts in Matthew 1 and 2 show Joseph moving promptly to obey God’s strange commands to him in what must have been a deeply puzzling period of his once tame life. 

So this Christmas, I want to be more like Joseph, quickly responsive to God’s direction in my life.

But there’s more to Joseph if we read carefully between the lines. 

  • principled about sex and relationships …

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Matthew 1:24-25 (ESV)
  • responsible for his wife and child …

Do you like this guy as much as I do? Do you admire him?

I wonder how I passed him by so often and for so many years. But there he was, Joseph in the shadows, allowing others to claim the limelight.

I think again of that second line of my morning prayers: I am a Servant – Called to put the needs of others above myself. And I want to be Joseph this Christmas.

I mentioned that Joseph is more at the center, although never a dominating figure, in Matthew’s edition of the Christmas Story.

As it turns out, Joseph is remembered by Luke also. So he’s not an entirely forgettable character. He matters. There’s some weight to him. He’s a force.

He’s just very comfortable in the shadows.

I really, really like this Joseph dude…

So let’s see what Luke has to say.

I’m gonna’ roll Luke’s glimpses of Joseph out pretty quickly here. After all, Joseph is really a man in the shadows in this, the third of the three gospels, as Luke tells the Christmas Story from his particular angle of view.

Let’s remember that Luke is concerned to provide an almost professionally historical accounting of events. He says so in that memorable first paragraph of his two-volume work, one that starts with his gospel and then continues with what we call The Acts of the Apostles:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Luke 1:1-4 (ESV)

So then he works his way through John the Baptist, King Herod, that feisty old couple Zechariah and Elizabeth, all the way up to the culminating announcement of Jesus’ imminent birth.

Now tune your ear to Joseph’s appearance. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Luke 1:26-33 (ESV)

Joseph is basically reduced to a genealogical marker and a silent partner to Mary, who is front and center and happens to be betrothed to this Joseph guy, who is otherwise unmentioned.

  • Luke 2.1-5, the census and the journey to Bethlehem …

Then, after a whole lot more very consequential stuff in a very long chapter 1, Luke’s second chapter begins with the engaged couple’s journey to Bethlehem. Again, listen carefully or you’ll miss Joseph-in-the-shadows.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Luke 2:1-7 (ESV)

And Joseph also went up…

That’s all the press he gets!

  • Luke 2.15-19, the silent bystander as the shepherds visit and Mary contemplates …

Then here come the shepherds. Watch for Joseph…

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke 2:15-20 (ESV)

I mean, we even get concluding summaries of Mary’s ponderings and the shepherds’ rejoicing. But where is Joseph? Invisible. And maybe content to be so.

  • Luke 2.22-35, the duty of Jerusalem, the parents’ marveling, and Simeon’s message to Mary …

Sadly, we don’t have time to read about Simeon, one of my favorite figures in the Christmas story—maybe I’m just drawn to the old dudes—except for this summary:

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke 2:33-35 (ESV)

So God is revealing long-kept secrets to human hearts, all of it having to do with the birth of this Infant King … and who gets a special talking-to from Simeon the aged prophet? Mary.

And where is Joseph. Invisible. Again.

  • Luke 2.41-52, twelve-year-old Jesus’ precocious wisdom in the temple and his parents’ consternation, which Mary speaks 

Now having told the Christmas Story, Luke compacts a lot of time into a few sentences in order to round out the picture of Jesus’ origins. Many of you will remember the amazing wisdom of the young Jesus, speaking in the temple precincts with Israel’s spiritual giants and public intellectuals. When his parents find him back in Jerusalem, utterly consternated by his behavior, who delivers the parental reprimand to the Young Messiah?

Mary. Joseph is silent. Not culpably silent, I think. Not irresponsibly. Just silent. Standing by, out of the limelight while the Lord accomplishes his greatest work.


Then, as quickly as he has appeared at the beginning of two of the four gospels, Joseph is gone.


I find this Joseph an interesting man. I would like to know him better, for I too often feel that I live in the shadows of people and events that are much larger than I am. I too often wonder whether I will be remembered, and—if so—how and by whom? Or, like Joseph, largely forgotten.

Yet, upon further reflection in the light of God’s coming near to us in Jesus, I wonder what would have happened if Joseph had not played his critical but overshadowed role in the events of Jesus’ birth. 

  • Would there have been no travel to Bethlehem with pregnant Mary?
  • No protecting of her honor when she fell pregnant under apparently shameful circumstances?
  • No hospitality to Babylonian astrologers who turned up with strange gifts in hand?
  • No careful performance of the duties that took the family to Jerusalem at the appropriate moments in Jesus’ life?

I don’t think I’ll be asked to play a part in anybody’s Christmas play this year.

But I want to be Joseph … willing to do the honorable thing in the shadow of those who do memorable things … willing to be forgotten if only Jesus will be remembered … willing to fade away if Jesus will only come more and more to the center of a growing circle of those who worship him.

Do you wanna’ join me in being Joseph this year?

My fear about preaching a message like this is that it will sentimentalize Joseph and even Christmas itself, kind of like a gauzy focus on a Hallmark Christmas movie. 

In reality, Christmas was and is an invasion of earth by the king of heaven and his armies. It’s not sentimental. It’s world-altering.

But in the midst of those events, Joseph was present and accounted for …. Quickly obedient … not needing the limelight.

So let us take up our small parts,  brothers and sisters, as our Lord does great things around us in this season that is best titled ‘Emanuel’: God is with us.

God be with you … and with our ailing pastor, who will have us back in 1 Samuel next week at this time and back into a series titled ‘Let Earth Receive Her King’.

May it be so. Amen.


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After exploring idolatry’s irony in chapter 45 around the issue of shaping and forming, the prophet again trains his sardonic firepower on idolaters in chapter 46. This time his sarcasm needles the makers of idols via the metaphors of lifting and carrying. Behind each of the two images lies the wearying nature of making and worshipping one’s own gods, on the one hand, and YHWH’s tireless lifting up and bearing around of his daughters and sons, on the other.

I quote the short chapter in full, below. The speaker is presumed to be YHWH throughout. I have attempted to highlight in italics the chapter’s references to the wearisome burden-bearing that depletes idolators, idols, and even the gods those idols purport to represent. ‘Bowing down’ and ‘stooping’ are best understood as the collapse of persons subjected to a forced march. The exhaustion spreads to the unfortunate animals that are doomed to carry heavy idols around, though in the broader Isaianic irony these innocent beasts of burden are more perceptive than foolish Judahites. (more…)

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We may live in a world with its horrors, yet we do not live in a horrible world.

There is goodness and gift aplenty amid these hills, in this city, within the troubled textures of this little life. (more…)

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Jesus promises his followers no perks.

In fact, he suggests that perk-seekers will best look elsewhere for a north star. He, rather, welcomes those who give up everything and expect nothing.

Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ (Matthew 8:18–20 ESV)

Something deep within us presumes that there is a guarantee. There is something for us in following Jesus.

The man himself, however, affirms that there is none.

In the verses quoted above, Jesus lays to rest all presumption that he will take care of his followers in the temporal sense. He himself has ‘nowhere to lay his head’. Neither should his followers expect a pillow.

Let us expand the thought: No bed. No bedroom. No home.

And yet Jesus is sure enough of himself to imagine that following him is, in spite of this, worthwhile.

Jesus’ statement in Matthew’s citation of it ends abruptly. There is no commentary, no explanation, no nuances that soften the observation he has just made.

The implication is clear. If you walk this way, you leave everything else behind. Everything else.

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One wonders what the Mary’s knew? Or felt? Or feared? Or awaited?

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:61 ESV)

In the midst of horrible and amazing events, this Mary and the other Mary simply sat beside the tomb of their beloved Jesus, and waited.

Or wept.

Who is to say?

Very often it is the least and the loyal who hang close to events when others have moved on. More often than the histories recall, they are the first to know of new things. Of the miracle. Of the resurrection.

Providence depends upon those who wait, watch, weep, await.

One wonders what the Eternal One would have done without this Mary, that Mary, and perhaps a handful of others who could not yet give up.

Probably, they did not yet know their own hearts, or minds. Yet there they were.

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Is it only the hope born so relentlessly in a new year’s first hours?

Or is YHWH’s purpose as unstoppable as it appears this first morning?

… and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel .. (Matthew 1:11–12 ESV)

From the conjunction of a January 1st and the first verses of the New Testament emerges a fresh glimpse of divine purpose, pushing through the bitter-sweets of the year just gone and into the face of all manner of fears about the one taking shape under our feet.

Matthew—grouping a genealogy of the about-to-be-born Jesus into an artifice of fourteen generations here, another fourteen there—molds history’s apparent chaos to make it a bit more ordered and orderly than rapid readers in the twenty-first century might understand it to be.

Between one fourteen and another, he skips over an apparent end-point: deportation, or exile. In the world of Babylonian eminence, a people did not emerge from exile. They either died in its grip or assimilated into the empire’s powerful ways and means so as to become unrecognizable among the flotsam and jetsam of once-proud peoples and nations now subjugated by the empire’s irresistible force. So was Israel’s great crisis short-handed as ‘exile’.

Yet Matthew skips over Babylonian captivity as though it were nothing. Well, not quite nothing, but nothing more than a comma in the long story of YHWH’s purpose.

Exilic calamity brands death into the bodies of less favored nations, who will die sooner or later far from home and be forgotten when they do.

Not to those who serve the divine Father of the about-to-be-born Jesus. They taste the same blood as those who are ground into dust by history. Their hearts race to the same fears. They curse the same mornings. Far from  immunity to history, they have been thrust into its sweaty core.

But, just when all seems lost, a new fourteen appears, a biographical cluster that promises life, progeny, and future.

And now, we are about to be told, a king is born. His name means ‘He rescues’.

And, on top of that, it is January 1st, when all things are possible.

Give us fourteen more, then.



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In the gospels’ presentation, the scribes and Pharisees come across as villainous for two reasons. First, they fail to discern the scale of relative priorities that orders the manifold demands of Torah. Second, they strain after a public pose while neglecting the righteous internal life that organically produces a public reputation.

In the face of these two failures, Jesus is merciless.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. (Matthew 23:23–26 NRSV)

Hypocrisy is endlessly subtle and supple. Its capacity for adapting to the self-protective requirements of the moment is almost inexhaustible.

Yet it pivots upon these two sins, making righteousness all the more difficult for those who by ignorance or principle fail to play by ‘pharisaical’ religion’s arbitrary and self-referential rules.

In Jesus’ dialect, those who act this way—no matter how nicely starched their robes—are sons of hell.

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We think of faith as a matter of the heart.

Each man, woman, or child has faith. Faith is mine, faith is private, faith is the exertion of a person’s will against the privations, limitations, and frustrations of circumstance.

So we believe, for our culture has taught us well. We have been good learners.

Yet over and above the indelible individuality of faith and the experience of it, the biblical witness allows us to glimpse shared faith.

And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’

In the famous story of the paralytic whose friends bore him to Jesus, these men would not be stopped. Although Matthew’s telling does not linger over such details, we learn elsewhere that they cut their way through a roof and lowered the man practically on top of Jesus. Crowds clogged the doorway and faith would not permit postponement.

Curiously—for us, at least—the text discerns Jesus’ motivation to heal this man in the faith of more than one individual. It is reasonable, though perhaps not necessary, to imagine that the paralyzed man shared the adventurous confidence of his friends. They appear convinced that—if only Jesus could me made aware of their friend’s plight—he would do something. The text does not find it urgent to localize faith in them or in him or in any one.

Jesus sees their faith, turns to a man who has forgotten how to move his limbs, and pronounces his sins forgiven.

They walk away, the man’s litter tucked under someone’s arm.

Sometimes we carry a fallen friend to Jesus, believing—almost—for him.

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It is too easy to imagine that God is in the fire.

He is often absent there.

Though it is wrong to fear the extraordinary, it is equally misguided to crave it. We lust after raised voices and clenched fists when our nourishment comes cradled in whisper and caress.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15–20, NRSV)

Jesus routinely follows precedent in biblical wisdom by privileging simple, steady obedience over its ambitious alternatives.

Prophets will come, he warns his followers. No doubt they will be impressive, disturbing, and spiritually invigorating. Such prophetic voices, raised in anger or illumination, are for Jesus a dime a dozen.

‘Show me their fruit’, he says, reducing their appeal to that feature of human behavior that is most difficult both to produce and to reproduce: righteous deeds.

One must not forget that Jesus and the tradition that treasures his words and brings them to our ears revere, to name just one, a John the Baptist. Jesus and his earliest witnesses are not opposed to sizzling flame on the tongue of a prophet. Indeed, they tell us, one must not dare the mistake of ignoring such a heavenly torch.

Yet if simple righteousness is absent from their conduct, they are like a fruitless tree. Fire goes there, but not the spoken, impressive kind. Just fire. Consuming fire. No glory there.

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Everywhere, we are told to plan for the future. This is no idle counsel. Tomorrow relentlessly and suddenly becomes today.

Yet Jesus’ radical counsel removes the demands of the future from the licit objects of our fretting. Tomorrow? Fuggedaboudit.

Therefore 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? Look 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? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing?

Such teaching exercises upon us an influence that oscillates between great release and immense frustration.

We want to live carefree. Yet we cannot. We know neither the language nor the rhythm of such trust.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

Jesus bring us closer, here, to the engine of such existential ease. Indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

Here, at least, our need is legitimated. We are not fools to imagine that we require these things.

Foolishness is banished to the space occupied by worry about them. It is there that we are not to stand, there that our feet and hands find themselves unfit for an alien task, there that we stumble over obstacles we cannot see. But our heavenly Father knows, thus we can rest.

Jesus’ summons is not to mental relaxation for its own sake. We are not relieved of effort. Rather, we are directed to marshal our energies towards a particularly focused project.

What we are to abandon is not the irrefutable, economic sine qua non of life on earth. That would be gnostic self-deception. Rather, we are to trust our heavenly Father with all of that, if Jesus is to believed, while we bend our shoulder to this.

But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Jesus does not here call his own to self-abandonment or an excessively other-worldly state of mind. In fact, with stunning realism, today is defined in terms of its freight of trouble.

Jesus calls us to focus on the one thing we can do something about. Remarkably, it is a project that, in bearing his Father’s own name, seems as though it might have been the one thing that lies beyond our reach: the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Before us lies one of the Christian story’s great reversals. We are told that the one thing we might be reasonably expected to accomplish—providing for our future—lies outside our control and in better hands than ours. Jesus’ Father and ours has that one covered. Paradoxically, the matter toward which we are to give ourselves heart and soul is owned entirely by God, in fact named after him: his kingdom and his righteousness.

Things are—ever, always—not as they appear.

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