Matt 6 - Are you not of more value than they?

Author: 
Fr Alec
Date: 
Sunday, February 23, 2014 - 9:30am

 

Are you not of more value than they?

 

What is a human being? Pretty much everything that we say and do, not just as Christians, but as people, springs from our answer to this question.

 

I have been haunted for a few days now by something I heard a comedian say on television, which touched upon this very issue.

Isn’t that a bit futile?’ somebody asked him.

Well,’ he said, ‘since we’re just highly-evolved monkeys clinging to a dying rock in the infinite vastness of space, isn’t everything completely futile?’

 

That set me thinking…If we accept his assessment- if that is all we are – then his conclusion is sound: Life is a brutal and meaningless struggle for survival in which all that could possibly count is our ability to feed ourselves and our family, to survive, and to reproduce.

 

Now, I am not here wishing to take issue with evolutionary theory. I find no difficulty in discovering within it signs of God’s hand providentially bringing his Creation to perfection. But what is truly abhorrent, from a Christian point of view is the reductive, nihilistic sense that this is a comprehensive theory, which tells us everything that we need to know about being human. That we are simply organisms adapting to our environment, and that our every decision, and every characteristic is somehow governed by brute instincts, or our material nature.

 

Perhaps one of the more powerful arguments for God’s existence is the human capacity to judge between right and wrong, and to perceive, and seek to create, beauty for its own sake. Neither of these has any basis in our struggle for survival or reproduction, but each seems to be hard-wired into us nevertheless. A human being will find value in doing right, even when it is to his or her disadvantage. Likewise, we will continue to appreciate beauty in nature, art and music even though it serves no practical use.

 

If we are not inclined to write off these things that seem so essential to who and what we are, then we are forced to look beyond the material realm for an adequate explanation. God’s purposes for us, we might conclude, lie somewhere beyond mere survival.

 

And this picture of humanity would appear to be at the heart of Jesus’ words in today’s gospel. He draws our eyes away from our everyday material needs (though, notice, he doesn’t ignore the fact that they are needs) and invites us instead to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness.’ It is as if he is saying: ‘You are more than creatures who hoard and sleep and feed – you have an eternal purpose.’

 

Now Jesus’ words are couched in terms of a warning against worry, anxiety and stress. ‘Do not worry,’ he says ‘about what you will eat, or drink, or wear.’ If we take a moment to call to mind those times when we have felt stress of worry, we very quickly recognise that it is a kind of fixation. Whatever we happen to be worried about becomes all that we can think of. Releasing ourselves from that worry becomes our principal goal, and our other priorities and plans fall by the wayside.

 

This is why worries about money, for example, can be so corrosive to a relationship. If all our thoughts are bent on releasing ourselves from the grip of debt, we stop paying attention to our obligation of love and care to those round about us. We become short-tempered, forgetful and uncommunicative. The stress diminishes us and prevents us from recognising or enjoying the fullness of the life we have been given.

 

But we should be careful. It would be heartless indeed to wander up to someone in dire financial straits and lecture them on the need to stop worrying. Still more so to fly out to a famine-stricken region and encourage those whom we found not to be anxious. Jesus is surely not addressing them- their thoughts are not for tomorrow but for today. Their problems stem from their immediate need rather than their fretfulness.

 

We might do better to consider the fact that whilst we in Britain spend, on average, less than ten percent of our household income on food, in Kenya or Cameroon, for example, that figure is more than forty percent. We might also try to remember that very often the cheap clothes that we buy here are put together by children in rags somewhere else.

 

It is our own anxieties, as a society, that encourage these imbalances, through the decisions we make when we shop for clothes, and when we set our trade policies. Like squirrels hoarding nuts for the winter, our minds are focussed on our future security, and not the present need of others.

 

But what is really significant for us here is that this anxiety – our overriding concern for cheapness and plenty – not only has a limiting effect on others, but also on ourselves. We so often and easily lose sight of the spiritual and ethical dimensions of human life – the things that raise us above a purely animal existence when we anxiously fixate on hoarding food, clothes and all kinds of material goods far beyond what we actually need. Living in a way that transcends purely animal survival requires a conscious choice on our part.

 

To seek first the Kingdom of God, is to readjust our priorities and look beyond ourselves and our own circle of acquaintance. It is to nurture the spiritual life, and adopt God’s perspective on his creation. It is to set ourselves and others free from the deadening effects of having too little, or too much, and to cherish the blessings of this life in the here and now.