The Anxiety Buster

Reflection: Matthew 6: 25 – 34

Towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeated His counsel not to be anxious four times to His disciples, and graphically illustrated them to press His point. This segment, prefaced with ‘for this reason’ (v.25, NASB), follows soon after His earlier advice regarding wealth and greed (vv. 19-24). But our Lord was certainly not addressing the wealthy, who do not need to worry about food and clothing, as often indulgence was their norm, but peasants who were familiar with life’s daily struggles. Unlike the early days in Palestine, our cushioned lifestyles today would not find these verses particularly relevant, but when we interpret them in the context of exercised faith and anxiety, it becomes entirely applicable, as the two are incompatible. None would willingly choose to be anxious, but it is exasperating when it rears its ugly head, and suddenly our scope of life narrows intolerably under its pressure.

It is improbable that Jesus was referring to pathological anxiety, where a person’s ‘fight or flight’ response regulators have been overwhelmed by being constantly exposed to stressful situations, and they are almost at the mercy of a disordered state. His instruction most likely arises out of His followers’ normal worries (the cognate noun indicates fearfulness, sleeplessness, intense feelings of worry), over issues in life which they have either very little or no control over. Hence, His emphatic rhetoric, ‘Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?’ (v.25) becomes a profound challenge to fundamental human preoccupations.

The Lord’s rationalizing is incisive and simple; firstly, as to their life (psyche): think about the birds of the air, they do not plant, harvest nor store food and are not idle too, yet their sustenance comes from God, and are humans then not more important to Him than birds? (v.26). Being in control is a learnt as well as a conditioned behavior; denoting that the desire for control is often an unconscious power dynamic, and its mechanism is only obvious when something goes wrong, and worry exposes the insecurity arising from a lack in control. Jesus’ inference is obvious as it is a very Jewish concept that the heavenly Father, who is in control, has always been providing for them; there is therefore no point in trying to usurp His power. The rhetorical question posed is, why worry when they are impotent to lengthen their lives (v.27), as excessive worrying, as we now know, probably shortens it. Life is a gift from God, and living it is certainly outside human control.

Secondly, as to their body (soma), an even more passive illustration than the birds is used: look at how much God lavishes His infinite pains on these magnificent wild flowers of the field, brief though their life span is, even King Solomon would be envious of how God dresses them. They are not only transitory but also worthless! How insufficient is their faith in God to provide for their basic clothing (v.28-32). Jesus is entreating them to reflect on their eroding trust in God; His care and love over His creation does not allow Him to ignore their needs.

Finally, Jesus draws His argument together by contrasting God’s fatherly concern and His provision, between the community of faith and those outside it; where they should not emulate the latter’s goals in life (v.31-32). It does not, however, mean that they throw future planning to the winds, and give up on responsible stewardship! Neither does His care for His own guarantee an easy life without trials and tribulations. Coming a full circle once again, Jesus’ re-emphasizes His drift throughout the Sermon of the Mount about seeking His kingdom – their quest for an undistracted secure life in the midst of trouble and freedom from anxieties, is to trust and obey God unreservedly within a filial context, for He will surely take care of those whose energies are directed towards His kingdom. And as their heavenly Father is also the Lord of time, do not worry about the future. (vv.33-34).