‘Do not worry’ isn’t an easy command to hear, let alone obey. In a world where so much seems uncertain, worry is in abundant supply.
But Jesus’ command not to worry (12:22f) isn’t in the context of ‘everything’s going to be fine’. It’s in the middle of a series of parables and sayings about judgement day and the end of the world (or, at least, the end of the world as we know it). It follows on a parable about not planning on the assumption that we’ll live forever, about a rich farmer taken unexpectedly by death just as he thought he had it made. Surrounding the image of birds and flowers provided for by God are warnings to be alert for the return of the master, about judgement on how we have served God, on how Jesus’ words will bring division and strife to the world.
Perhaps what Jesus means is that we shouldn’t be distracted by worrying, that is, going over our fears for the future at the expense of living today. It’s one thing to provide for your retirement – it’s another thing to be so concerned about the standard of living you’ll have then that you never do anything now.
And when it comes to the warnings of judgement and mortality – that we will all, on a day we don’t yet know, die – they’re not meant to give us something else to worry about, as if our eternal destiny was somehow still in the balance.
We’re reminded that we don’t know when we will die so that we don’t forget to live today while we have the chance.
We’re reminded that we will answer for how we have lived at judgement day so that we remember to do today all the good we can, and to turn away today from all that is not part of God’s way for our lives.
We’re reminded that all now hidden (all hypocrisy, false motives, half-truths we get away with) will one day be revealed, not so we can worry about how painful that day will be but so that we are motivated today to live transparently and honestly in the light of God’s love.
The knowledge that this life is limited, and that life with God is eternal, is meant to move us to concentrate more on living here and now, not less. For this life really matters. It’s not a dress-rehearsal for eternity. It’s a foundation we’re building day by day. As we don’t know how many more of those days we have, it’s all the more important to keep building what will last.