How is it possible not to worry about tomorrow? Some people are more prone to worry than others, so that reading this passage will make you feel a little guilty for being anxious (or overly spiritual if you are one of those chill people who never seem to worry about things). Like most things in the sermon, Jesus is describing the ideal disciple who finds balance between having the basic necessities of life and one who is driven by the pursuit of wealth.
The problem with wealth (treasures on earth) is that the quickly become an end to themselves rather than the means to an end. The danger of accumulating wealth is found in the Old Testament, Jewish Wisdom Literature, and virtually every culture which has stopped to consider the dangers of wealth.
Ecclesiastes 5:11 (ESV) When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?
1 Baruch 3:18 those who schemed to get silver, and were anxious, but there is no trace of their works?
“The more property, the more care.” Hillel, m. Aboth 2:7.
“Poor man wanna be rich, Rich man wanna be king, and a king ain’t satisfied, ‘til he rules everything.” Badlands, Bruce Springsteen
“It’s like the more money we come across, the more problems we see.” Mo Money Mo Problems, The Notorious B.I.G.
Jesus is not recommending his disciples not prepare for the future or take the time to prepare for the next day. “For the contemporary person who has grown tired of the constant Christian justification of possessions and who is suspicious about the emphasis on the supreme value of work, the text offers a glimpse of an alternative way of life” (Luz, Matthew 1-7, 348).
But when the basics of life consume the disciple with anxiety, then they are wholly distracted from what they ought to be seeking, the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God. For the people following Jesus in Galilee, it is likely they were living in poverty. They likely did worry about how they would feed their family or how they would pay their taxes.
Jesus has already said his disciples ought to be storing up treasures in heaven. If the disciple of Jesus doing that, then there is no need to be anxious about the basics of life. The verb “be anxious” (μεριμνάω) refers to being unduly concerned over things. The object of the worry is “your life.” This refers to every aspect of life, including the physical aspects Jesus mentions. Most importantly it includes the mental and spiritual processes crippled by worry. Jesus is saying the disciple should not be so anxious over things which God has already provided for.
Both Paul and Peter make similar warnings against worry (Phil 4:6-7 and 1 Peter 5:7). For Paul, worry is the opposite of contentment. Philippians 4:6-7 says the follower of Jesus should not worry about anything, but present those worries to God through prayer, with thanksgiving. Writing from a Roman prison in a situation which might very well end his life, Paul models the balance between worry and contentment.
McKnight points out the anxiety and agitation of Martha in Luke 10:41. She is so concerned about proper hospitality she has forgotten to sit at Jesus’s feet and be taught, as her sister Mary was (Sermon, 218). Some people are like Mary (not worried about anything but Jesus) and other are like Martha, concerned with all the things which need to be done they miss out on what Jesus wants to teach them. To have no care at all about personal needs is as foolish as being consumed with worry.
Jesus makes the shocking statement, at least by contemporary standards, that life is more than food and clothes (6:25) Jesus offers three illustrations of “earthly cares” (food, drink, and clothing). These are the basic necessities of life. For Jesus’s original listeners and the original readers of Matthew, basic daily needs were not guaranteed. The readers Matthew are Jewish Christians who will be soon undergoing persecution and their basic necessities are in jeopardy. Tomorrow they may not have a home, the next day they might not be able to afford food.
In the context of modern western life, these things seem minor since we have all our basic needs met. We are more likely to worry about making a car payment. Bur for the majority world, many do not know where their next meal is coming from, or do not have access to clean water, or may only own a few items of clothing. Have modern western Christians developed “misplaced loyalties” because they have so much wealth? I realize the average college student feels they live in poverty, but they have shelter and food (and often gain that freshman fifteen!) Yet people are anxious about everything! How does this teaching of Jesus work speak to the problem of worry and anxiousness even in the western world?