A Different Way of Trusting
As I mentioned last year, Lent is my favourite season. (See last year’s post for a brief explanation of the modern Lenten fast.) The physical act of preparing oneself for the Resurrection (Easter) is an especially effective reminder of the physicality of the kingdom of God. Over the past year I have experienced more fully the way that God is committed to expanding his kingdom in this world and in my own life.
There remains a tension as the Church uses Lent to prepare for Easter and to trust that God provides for his creatures. In the midst of his Sermon on the Mount in St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus states,
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
In this passage we see what looks like a guarantee that God will provide for the needs of his creatures. But in this world of famine and starvation, both by the ‘birds of the air’ and our fellow humans throughout the world (especially in developing countries), how can we believe such a guarantee?
From a broader perspective, in this portion of the Sermon on the Mount Christ is attempting to convince his disciples not to worry and to instead trust God. While the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount is very elaborate, complex and disorienting, I believe its thematic thrust generally revolves around how the Church is to live in the kingdom of God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggests in The Cost of Discipleship that in the end the “disciple of Jesus will be asked ‘Lacked ye anything?’, and he will answer ‘Nothing, Lord’. How could he when he knows that despite hunger and nakedness, persecution and danger, the Lord is always by His side?” While I believe Bonhoeffer has touched on a profound concept sewn into the very fabric of Christian discipleship, the more universal issue of unmet human need faces our discussion of this issue. Among others, R. T. France argues that such philosophical questions regarding starvation are not the subject of the Sermon on the Mount and while I agree that discipleship is in fact the focal point of this sermon, I also believe that the issue of universal need can and must be addressed in the context of Christian discipleship.
Perhaps this is where we can to be in our thought process:
- Christ is not lying concerning the disciples’ necessary abstinence from anxieties concerning what we eat or what we wear.
- There is a real problem in this world – only a chapter earlier we read the Beatitudes, where Christ is explicitly acknowledging human suffering in his mention of the “poor in spirit”, “those who mourn” and “those who are persecuted”. Even in Matthew 8, Jesus refers birds as having nests, “but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (20).
- Throughout his ministry Christ presents a real solution to the real problem.
What is this ‘real solution’? While this is not the focal point of this particular section of Scripture, the Gospel of the kingdom of God necessitates a hope, an earnest expectation that God provides. This beautiful hope causes us trouble because oftentimes the Church is sitting back, waiting for God to provide. The fundamental issue is that the Church has forgotten who it is. The Church does not realise the implications of being the Body and Bride of Christ. Jesus has inaugurated the kingdom of God and established the Church in order to be used by the Holy Spirit to continually demonstrate the presence of the kingdom of God. In this way, the Church is invited (and called) to be an active member in establishing and maintaining this kingdom. In such a way, the Church has the responsibility to invite all people to the feast that is the kingdom of God. We as the Church are called to meet these certain needs and in such a way we will be causing this world not to worry, but to trust in the abundant grace and provision of God.
As we enter into this Lenten season, let us be mindful of the ways in which the present kingdom gives us hope and drive for the values that bring redemption into this world. Let us not only trust God to provide for our needs as the Church, but extend grace in an active way that gives us a trust that God is providing for his creation continually through the climactic event that is the death and Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. God has invited us to participate in his justice!
May we be encouraged during Lent to take time to reflect on the magnitude of the Gospel and in that the great provision of God for all of his creation.
Hanging as a vine upon the Wood,
O Christ our Saviour,
Thou hast made the ends of the earth
to drink from the wine of incorruption.
Therefore do I cry aloud:
I am darkened always by the hateful drunkenness of sin;
Give me to drink from the sweet wine of true compunction,
and grant me now the strength, O Saviour,
to fast from sensual pleasures,
for Thou art good and lovest mankind.
St. Joseph the Studite, Lenten Triodion