Monday, 2 November 2015

Goose Theology and the Sermon on the Mount

One thing that never ceases to amaze me, and that I’ve pondered on many an occasion, is this rat race that we call life. Why is it that, of all God’s creation, that those who were created in His image, seem to wrestle with trusting Him with their daily provision and sustenance more than any other creature? Those of us, to whom God has promised to never leave nor forsake, to whom God loved so much that He gave His only begotten Son, to whom all the promises of the Scriptures were made, fret and worry about tomorrow like no other creature in all of creation. Does that not seem strange to you?

Maybe the animal kingdom does worry too in some way and in accordance with their mental abilities to comprehend; I don’t know. I recently read a book by Cesar Millan (from TV’s ‘The Dog Whisperer’) in which he said that dogs live for the “now.” They may have some negative memory of past events, such as an encounter with a bicyclist, but there is no concern with what may or may not happen tomorrow; their lives center on the “now.” However, if some animals do stress out and worry in some way or another, they still seem more relaxed than we humans typically do. Have you ever noticed that?

Lately I’ve been meditating again upon something Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount. Unless you’re new to Christianity, I’m sure you’re familiar with it. He said,

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. 
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6: 24-34; NIV)

As I reflected on that, I also found myself thinking of all the rat-race stress that so many of us find ourselves in, and wondered why we even tolerate it. Oh, I know why we do it: there’s lifestyle choices, there’s providing for families, sometimes it’s a case of keeping up with the proverbial Jones’, and the realization that sooner or later we had better be building our retirement nest eggs, etc., etc., etc. Basically our societal mores and values dictate that this is the way we do life in the western world. But is that where our primary focus should be? Jesus said, “the pagans run after these things” and those who worry about them He called people of “little faith.” Does that mean that I’m being “pagan,” or “pagan-like,” when I do likewise? Do I only have a “little faith,” as opposed to one a little bigger? Am I serving money? Perhaps so, and especially if doing so trumps first seeking his kingdom and his righteousness. But then again, if I’m serving money, then Jesus says that I cannot at the same time be serving God. Or am I missing something here?

I was chatting with a friend of mine who many years ago used to be a Roman Catholic priest. As it turned out he had wrestled with similar questions in the past and came to the conclusion that, no matter how society prioritized what they deemed as important, he would stick to his own priority list. He had five groupings in which he put his life’s activities and values. Rated from most important to least important, they are: (1) God, (2) Spouse, (3) Personal Health, (4) Rest of Family, (5) Job/Career. Some might argue that priority order, but the more I think about it, the more I think that he hit it right on the mark.

He argued that where we often find ourselves getting into trouble is when we mix up that priority. What many of us often tend to do, and it seems like many employers expect that we do, is to place the Job/Career grouping into the number (1) category (God’s category). Sure, the employer’s catch phrase is often “Life-Job Balance,” but whose standard are they measuring that balance by? No doubt it’s by their standard. And it is there that we often tend to worry; if I insist on my priority list over my employers, I could soon find myself looking for a new job. But even there, I believe that Jesus would say to us, “Why do you worry?

In the same way, if my relationship with my wife is in it’s wrong priority slot, my marriage will suffer for it. If I do not place her higher than even my own physical and/or mental health, I’ve probably violated my marriage vows to her. My friend confessed that until he rectified that in his own life, he too struggled with that section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that we looked at above. Perhaps I too have allowed my priorities to get a little screwed up and need to revisit my own priority list. Perhaps we all do.

I thought about all these things as I walked my dog around a neighborhood lake, and then paused to look at the geese just taking it easy there in the water. Did they know something that apparently many of us have forgotten (assuming that we ever really knew it in the first place)? Unlike many of us, they certainly didn’t seem stressed or burned out. Perhaps, not having to deal with serving money, serving and trusting God comes more natural to them. Dinner would present itself at just the right time, and in just the right place. Likewise, a place to nest and bed down for the night will be found when it’s needed. God would see to it. Perhaps the lesson of the geese is that they really know that it is our heavenly Father who feeds and cares for them, and they instinctively know how to rest in that. Is there a lesson in that for us too? Hmm, I wonder.

For further reflection:

  • Despite often giving lip service to the contrary, and if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, do Christians still tend to “serve two masters?”
  • How much do we really worry about tomorrow? Is that reflected in where we’ve placed our jobs/careers on our priority lists?
  • What do you make of Jesus’ reference that it is “pagans” who worry about these things, and when Christians do so, it is a sign that theirs is only a “little faith?”
  • Though the animal kingdom still has to “work” for its food too (hunting, foraging etc.), do you think that they somehow trust God in it better than most humans do? If so, why do you think that is?

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