Excerpt from Spiritual Classics

There­fore I tell you, do not be con­cerned about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than cloth­ing? (6:25)

Lis­ten … to what serv­ing Mam­mon [the god of pos­ses­sion] means. It means being con­cerned about our life and our body, about what we should eat and drink and put on. It means think­ing only about this life, about how to get rich here and how to accu­mu­late and increase our mon­ey and prop­er­ty, as though we were going to stay here for­ev­er. The sin­ful wor­ship of Mam­mon does not con­sist in eat­ing and drink­ing and wear­ing clothes, nor in look­ing for a way to make a liv­ing and work­ing at it; for the needs of this life and of the body make food and cloth­ing a require­ment. But the sin con­sists in being con­cerned about it and mak­ing it the reliance and con­fi­dence of your heart. Con­cern does not stick to cloth­ing or to food, but direct­ly to the heart, which can­not let a thing go and has to hang on to it. As the say­ing goes, Prop­er­ty makes a per­son bold.” Thus being con­cerned” means cling­ing to it with your heart. I am not con­cerned about any­thing that my heart does not think about, but I must have a heart for any­thing about which I am concerned.

You must not tight­en this text too much, how­ev­er, as if it pro­hib­it­ed any kind of con­cern at all. Each office and sta­tion involves tak­ing on cer­tain con­cerns, espe­cial­ly being in charge of oth­er peo­ple. As St. Paul says about spir­i­tu­al offices in Chris­ten­dom (Rom. 12:8): He who rules, let him be care­ful.” In this sense the head of a house­hold has to be con­cerned about whether his chil­dren are being brought up prop­er­ly … if he neglects this, he does wrong.

Christ is not talk­ing here about this sort of con­cern. This is an offi­cial con­cern, which must be sharply dis­tin­guished from greed. It is not con­cerned for its own sake but for the neighbor’s sake; it does not seek its own inter­ests (1 Cor. 13:5), but even neglects them and for­gets them in order to serve some­body else. There­fore, it may be called a con­cern of love, some­thing divine and Chris­t­ian, not a con­cern devot­ed to its own advan­tage or to Mam­mon, mil­i­tat­ing against faith and love, and even inter­fer­ing with the offi­cial con­cern. The man whose mon­ey is dear to him and who is on the look­out for his own advan­tage will not have much regard for his neigh­bor or for the office that involves his neighbor.

Christ has for­bid­den this greedy con­cern and wor­ship of Mam­mon as an idol­a­try that makes men ene­mies of God. Now He goes on with many state­ments, exam­ples, and illustrations.…

The birds, our schoolmasters 

Look at the birds of the air; they nei­ther sow nor reap nor gath­er into bams, and yet your heav­en­ly Father feeds them. Are you not of more val­ue than the)’? And which of you by being anx­ious can add one cubit to his stature? (6:26 – 27)

You see, He is mak­ing the birds our school­mas­ters and teach­ers. It is a great and abid­ing dis­grace to us that in the Gospel a help­less spar­row should become a the­olo­gian and a preach­er to the wis­est of men, and dai­ly should empha­size this to our eyes and ears, as if he were say­ing to us: Look, you mis­er­able man! You have house and home, mon­ey and prop­er­ty. Every year you have a field full of grain and oth­er plants of all sorts, more than you ever need. Yet you can­not find peace, and you are always wor­ried about starv­ing. If you do not know that you have sup­plies and can­not see them before your very eyes, you can­not trust God to give you food for one day. Though we are innu­mer­able, none of us spends his liv­ing days wor­ry­ing. Still God feeds us every day.” In oth­er words, we have as many teach­ers and preach­ers as there are lit­tle birds in the air. Their liv­ing exam­ple is an embar­rass­ment to us. When­ev­er we hear a bird singing toward heav­en and pro­claim­ing God’s prais­es and our dis­grace, we should feel ashamed and not even dare to lift up our eyes. But we are as hard as stone, and we pay no atten­tion even though we hear the great mul­ti­tude preach­ing and singing every day.

Look at what else the dear lit­tle birds do. Their life is com­plete­ly uncon­cerned, and they wait for their food sole­ly from the hands of God. Some­times peo­ple cage them up to hear them sing. Then they get food in abun­dance, and they ought to think: Now I have plen­ty. I do not have to be con­cerned about where my food is com­ing from. Now I have a rich mas­ter, and my barns are full.” But they do not do this. When they are free in the air, they are hap­pi­er and fat­ter. Their singing of Lauds and of Matins to their Lord ear­ly in the morn­ing before they eat is more excel­lent and more pleas­ant. Yet none of them knows of a sin­gle grain laid away in store. They sing a love­ly, long Benedicite and leave their cares to our Lord God, even when they have young that have to be fed.

When­ev­er you lis­ten to a nightin­gale, there­fore, you are lis­ten­ing to an excel­lent preach­er. He exhorts you with this Gospel, not with mere sim­ple words but with a liv­ing deed and an exam­ple. He sings all night and prac­ti­cal­ly screams his lungs out. He is hap­pi­er in the woods than cooped up in a cage, where he has to be tak­en care of con­stant­ly and where he rarely gets along very well or even stays alive. It is as if he were say­ing: I pre­fer to be in the Lord’s kitchen. He has made heav­en and earth, and He Him­self is the cook and the host. Every day He feeds and nour­ish­es innu­mer­able lit­tle birds out of His hand. For He does not have mere­ly a bag full of grain, but heav­en and earth.”

Now Christ says: Every day you see before your very eyes how the heav­en­ly Father feeds the lit­tle birds in the field, with­out any con­cern on their part. Can you not trust Him to feed you as well, since He is your Father and calls you His chil­dren? Shall He not be con­cerned about you, whom He has made His chil­dren and to whom He gives His Word and all crea­tures, more than about the lit­tle birds, which are not His chil­dren but your ser­vants? And yet He thinks enough of them to feed them every day, as if they were the only thing He is con­cerned about. And He enjoys it when they fly around and sing with­out a care in the world, as if they were say­ing: I sing and frol­ic, and yet I do not know of a sin­gle grain that I am to eat. My bread is not baked yet, and my grain is not plant­ed yet. But I have a rich Mas­ter who takes care of me while I am singing or sleep­ing. He can give me more than all my wor­ries and the wor­ries of all peo­ple could ever accomplish.’”

Now, since the birds have learned so well the art of trust­ing Him and of cast­ing their cares from them­selves upon God, we who are His chil­dren should do so even more. Thus this is an excel­lent illus­tra­tion that puts us all to shame. We, who are ratio­nal peo­ple and who have the Scrip­tures in addi­tion, do not have enough wis­dom to imi­tate the birds. When we lis­ten to the lit­tle birds singing every day, we are lis­ten­ing to our own embar­rass­ment before God and the peo­ple. But after his fall from the word and the com­mand­ment of God, man became crazy and fool­ish; and there is no crea­ture alive which is not wis­er than he. A lit­tle finch, which can nei­ther speak nor read, is his the­olo­gian and mas­ter in the Scrip­tures, even though he has the whole Bible and his rea­son to help him.…

The lilies, our theologians 

And why are you anx­ious about cloth­ing? 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 arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomor­row is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O men of lit­tle faith? (6:28 – 30)

Here you have anoth­er exam­ple and anal­o­gy; accord­ing to it, the lit­tle flow­ers in the field, which cat­tle tram­ple and eat, are to become our the­olo­gians and mas­ters and to embar­rass us still fur­ther. Just look at them grow, all adorned with love­ly col­ors! Yet not one of them is anx­ious or wor­ried about how it should grow or what col­or it should have, but it leaves these anx­i­eties to God. And with­out any care or effort on its part God dress­es it up in such love­ly and beau­ti­ful col­ors that, as Christ says, King Solomon in all his glo­ry was not so beau­ti­ful as one of these — indeed, no empress with all her ladies-in-wait­ing, with all her gold, pearls, and jew­els. No king He could name was so rich or so glo­ri­ous or so beau­ti­ful­ly adorned as was Solomon. But with all his mag­nif­i­cent pomp and splen­dor, the king is noth­ing when com­pared with a rose or a pink or a vio­let in the field. In this way our Lord God can adorn any­one whom He choos­es to adorn. That is real­ly an adorn­ment, a col­or that no man can make or match, an adorn­ment that no one could or would sur­pass. Though they were to be cov­ered with pure gold and satin, they would still say: I pre­fer the adorn­ment of my Mas­ter up there in heav­en, who adorns the lit­tle birds, to that of all the tai­lors and embroi­der­ers on earth.”

Now, since He dress­es and adorns so many flow­ers with such a vari­ety of col­ors, and each has its own coat, more splen­did than all the adorn­ment in the world, why is it that we can­not have faith that He will dress us as well? What are the flow­ers and the grass in the field when com­pared with us? And what were they cre­at­ed for except to stand there for a day or two, to let them­selves be looked at, and then to with­er and turn into hay? Or as Christ says, they are thrown into the oven” to be burned and to heat the oven. Yet our Lord God regards these tiny and tran­sient things so high­ly that He lav­ish­es His gifts upon them and adorns them more beau­ti­ful­ly than any earth­ly king or oth­er human being. Yet they do not need this adorn­ment; indeed, it is wast­ed upon them, since, with the flower, it soon per­ish­es. But we are His high­est crea­tures, for whose sakes He made all things and to whom He gives every­thing. We mat­ter so much to Him that this life is not to be the end of us, but after this life He intends to give us eter­nal life. Now, should we not trust Him to clothe us as He clothes the flow­ers of the field with so many col­ors and the birds of the air with their love­ly feath­ers? He is speak­ing satir­i­cal­ly, in order to describe how abom­inable our unbe­lief is and to make it look as ridicu­lous as pos­si­ble.… They sing and preach to us and smile at us so lov­ing­ly, just to have us believe. And yet we go right on let­ting them preach and sing, while we remain as greedy and self­ish as ever. But to our eter­nal shame and dis­grace each indi­vid­ual flower is a wit­ness against us to con­demn our unbe­lief before Cod and all the crea­tures until the Last Day.…

For­get your anxieties 

There­fore do not be anx­ious, say­ing, What shall we eat?” or, What shall we drink?” or, What shall we wear?” For the Gen­tiles seek all these things, and your heav­en­ly Father knows that you need them all (6:31 – 32).

Every day you see these illus­tra­tions before your very eyes, how God nour­ish­es and feeds every­thing that lives and grows from the earth, clothes and adorns it so beau­ti­ful­ly. Now let these illus­tra­tions per­suade you to lay aside your anx­i­ety and your unbe­lief and to remem­ber that you are Chris­tians and not hea­then. Such anx­i­ety and greed are appro­pri­ate to hea­then, who do not know Cod or care about Him. It is real­ly idol­a­try, as St. Paul says (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5)

Since you are Chris­tians,” He says, you dare not doubt that your Father is well aware of your need for all this, of the fact that you have a bel­ly that needs food and drink and a body that needs cloth­ing. If He did not know it, you would have rea­son to be con­cerned and anx­ious about how to pro­vide for your­selves. But since He does know it, He will not for­sake you. He is faith­ful and will­ing to take spe­cial care of you Chris­tians, because, as has been said, He cares for tire birds of the air as well. So for­get your anx­i­eties, since you can­not accom­plish any­thing by them. It does not depend upon your anx­i­ety but upon His knowl­edge and con­cern.” If noth­ing grew in the field unless we were anx­ious about it, we would all have died in our cra­dles, and dur­ing the night, while we are lying asleep, noth­ing could grow. Indeed, even by wor­ry­ing our­selves to death we could not make a sin­gle blade of grass grow in die field. We real­ly ought to see and under­stand that God gives every­thing with­out any anx­i­ety on our part, and yet we are such god­less peo­ple that we refuse to give up our anx­i­ety and our greed. Though it is up to Him to be con­cerned, as a father is con­cerned for his chil­dren, we refuse to leave it to Him.

Excerpt­ed from Spir­i­tu­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings on the Twelve Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines, edit­ed by Richard Fos­ter and Emi­lie Grif­fin (New York: Harper­One, 2000), pp. 119 – 124.

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