‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’
Anxiety is a hot topic these days. It is all over the news, and it is on the rise. In the age of information and technology, we are constantly bombarded with doom and gloom news alerts, including reminders that on top of everything else, we are plagued with increasing anxiety.
How we respond to anxiety producing information is important. Some people tune out of all media for periods of time, others create their own realities and still others act out in destructive ways when their abilities to cope or their desire to seize control overwhelm.
The list of things which fuel worry seems to grow or be renewed daily. Whether at home, in our country or across the globe, events and threats, real or potential, foster anxieties and worrisome thoughts.
It is challenging not to possess some degree of fear and anxiety about the state of the world. With the threat of military confrontation in the South China Sea, raging global inflation, despotic rulers, climate disasters seen in fires, heatwaves and melting icefields; with xenophobic politicians and talking heads spewing hate across all media forms, with acts of international and domestic terrorism shaking our sense of security, we need to hear Jesus’ voice calmly inviting us to lay our anxiety and fear at the foot of the cross. “Do not be afraid.”
Today’s reading is a piece of the middle of Luke’s gospel known as the “travel narrative” where Jesus has set his sights for Jerusalem and spends about ten chapters getting there.
Jesus has a lot to say in these chapters. Some of his best-known phrases, those pithy sayings that would make it into a Jesus bestseller, “Helpful Advice for Busy Christians” appear in this passage.
Jesus followers were anxious. They were worried. Worried about Roman oppressors hurting them and their families. Worried about tyrannical rulers. Worried over where their next meal would come from, and how they were going to provide for themselves and the future. Worried about God’s anger. Worried about the state of the world, full to bursting with injustice.
To them, and to us Jesus says, “do not be afraid because it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” which involves divesting of fears and worries and things beyond our control. We cannot replace anxiety by escape. We cannot replace fear with our desire to control outcomes. Fear must be replaced by trust and faithful action.
Jesus does not advise us to replace our anxiety with some inactive calm. While periods of solitude and stillness are good for the soul and help calm the mind, what Jesus is advocating in the quest to “not be afraid” is an active process. He goes on to direct us to let go of the things that will not save us from unending worry, anxiety or fear. Nothing in our control will save us. Not our possession or our best charitable actions.
Only God, whose “good pleasure it is,” will save us from this predicament. Only God can give us the kingdom of an unfailing treasure, where no terrorist comes near and no catastrophe destroys.
If I were leading a retreat using this passage, I would stop right here and direct retreatants to spend the rest of the day letting this verse sink into the depths of the mind and soul. “…it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
It seems that God, for no other reason than it simply pleases and delights God to give, gives us the kingdom. So, toss off the worries. Get over your anxiety, guilt, shame, and unworthiness. Of course, none of us deserve the kingdom, but God is giving it to us anyway, not because of who we are or whatever good and meritorious things we have done, but simply because it tickles God to no end to give it to us.
Now I suppose we could take this good news and start living with abandon — sinning boldly — eating, drinking, and being merry to the max. After all, God’s going to give us the kingdom.
But Jesus has other ideas.
In today’s reading, everything else follows from this declaration of God’s goodness and generosity: “…It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
The second part of the reading is about action. It is about being alert for the Master, even when we do not expect him. It is a reminder that faith and action cannot be divorced. If we are to live in a way that is fearless, then we must be about the work of the kingdom that God promises to give to us. We must have our lamps lit and be dressed to serve. We must be doing the things of faithfulness — feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and setting the captives free — even when we do not feel like Jesus is going to come knocking anytime soon.
Faithful action is the result of laying down our fear and replacing it with trust. We trust that the Master will come, so we ready the house. We go about the tasks that the Master left for us to do. And if we are caught up in our faithful action when the Master return, blessings will abound.
As Jesus tells it, the slaves who were up and ready to serve the late-returning Master were rewarded with the Master cooking them a meal — a countercultural gospel indeed! We are reminded that we will not know God’s timing, so we should expect God always; actively living out faith each day. In this we shall be blessed.
We cannot control events beyond ourselves. We cannot manage terrorism away. We cannot protect ourselves from every act of gun violence by carrying a gun everywhere. We cannot prevent every mutinous cancer cell, or every painful heartbreak. We have to loosen our grip on control, and listen to Jesus words, “Do not be afraid.” Fear must turn to trust, and trust must grow into faithful action, building today, the kingdom that it is God’s good pleasure to give us.