Thursday, August 13
The Bible I keep near my writing desk offers inspiration for framing these weekly reflections by using short sub-headings in its Gospel chapters. One of this week’s readings (Luke 12: 32-37) starts off with a sub-heading – “Do Not Worry.” Now, I am not sure if you sometimes listen to music when reading the Bible; perhaps some J.S. Bach, a CD serenity compilation or a Chopin etude? I am not so inclined, but for some reason when I refreshed myself on this Scripture passage, I began to hum Bobby McFerrin’s popular 2011 hit – “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Now that I have planted that tune in your head – for the next few minutes – let’s proceed.
Jesus says to his disciples starting in v. 32, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Biblical scholars have suggested that a better translation of the Greek words me phobou mean a bit more than “Fear not,” or even “be not afraid.” It can be understood to mean “Stop being afraid,” or “fear no more.” This pall of fear was ever present at the time of Luke’s writing as members of the Christian church and its disciples faced persecution. Yet, Jesus here refers to his disciples as a “little flock,” and as familiar readers of Scripture, we immediately recall the story of the Good Shepherd whose entire attention is devoted to the well-being of His sheep. To further ease the tensions of his disciples Jesus reminds them that God is pleased to give them an eternal kingdom as their inheritance. This phrase offers us the refreshing reminder of God’s generosity towards humankind. Professor Matt Skinner of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota suggests “God eagerly wants the “kingdom” – a whole new set of affairs reflecting God’s intentions for human flourishing – to take root in the real, lived experiences of Jesus’s followers. Why? Because that’s God’s good pleasure.” So, is that it? Don’t worry, be happy?
Well, not quite. Luke’s passage continues with Jesus instructing his little flock (remember that includes you and me too) to “Sell your possessions, and give alms.” Here we see Luke’s preference for a life of charity. “Don’t worry, be happy” now carries alongside it some responsibility on our part. Why? Pastor Jo Anne Taylor, a United Methodist pastor in Kansas City, Missouri reminds us that in ancient Rome, gifts were given to create a sense of obligation for repayment. It was the way one climbed the social ladder – making sure others were in your debt and owed you favors. She continues by saying that in the “Kingdom economy,” God lavishly gives away his entire Kingdom to us, and when we, in turn, give without expecting anything in return, we participate in that Kingdom and receive even more from God.
There is a further important reminder to us here – God has already given us the Kingdom through his Son, Jesus Christ. It is not just eternal life at some future point-in-time. Rather, the Kingdom of God’s active and current reign over heaven has begun on earth through Jesus’ ministry, and continues to the present time. As followers of Christ, it is our actions, whether it be through alms giving to those in need, or advocating for structural change to imbalances in current social, political and cultural realities, that move us by incremental steps towards God’s promised Kingdom.
Like the servants of the master seen at the end Luke’s reading, we are disciples of Jesus called to be not only watchful for His return but to respond today, tomorrow and in the rest of our days to serve those in need around us. We do this by revealing through our actions the values and standards of God’s Kingdom, a place that as our Saviour tells us, is the Father’s good pleasure to give us.
Heavenly Father, through your Son, Jesus Christ, we are relieved
of worry knowing you have given us your Kingdom.
We ask the Holy Spirit to kindle in our hearts
a spirit of generosity to those currently in need.
Strengthen our voice in calling for change in our communities
where poverty, hopelessness and insecurity of many types exist.
So that in all that we do and all that we ask in Your name may continue
to build your Kingdom where worry is abandoned and happiness abounds.