“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
The clothing Jesus is talking about here has to be something more than simply the clothes on our back. When we look at this passage, our takeaway very often is something like, “We don’t have to worry about anything, because God will take care of us, meaning, He will make sure we have food and clothing. He’ll make sure our life here is relatively secure.”
Yet, look at what He compares us to in this passage – the grass of the field, “which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven.” He compares us to something whose life span is a day! It would be like Jesus saying, “Hey, don’t worry! Look at the man on death row, sentenced to death tomorrow. He’s well provided for…today.” Yikes!
What this does, of course, is keep us focused on today, which is Jesus’ ultimate point: “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” He narrows down our focus to just the day. Worry, of course, is about the future, about what life has in store for us. We worry about retirement. We worry about how our health will turn out. We worry about our children. Nonsense, says Jesus, today is all we have. And if we use the lilies as an example of one creature, on any given day we have it actually pretty well.
How much of the past ten years has been spent on worry, and yet, here we are. The sin of worry is directly related to the view that the future is in our hands, in our control; therefore, we have power to make the future what we want it to be. I don’t want to throw cold water on those good ole American, pragmatic, empowerment quotes – what would the walls of gyms and locker rooms be without them – but Jesus is not talking about empowerment in this world. Sure, the future is in your hands, and your life can be as big as the dreams you have about it.
So what? You’ll still die. That’s Jesus’ bigger point. You’ll still die, therefore set your heart on other things than the things of this world. The grasses live for a day and then die, and are we not like the grass, says several Psalms? “As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.” They’re one day; we’re ninety or so years. Is it not ultimately the same?
The typical focus on this passage often still misses the point. People almost look at it like a mental game, or like Luke Skywalker trying to harness the force. “Just take the focus off of the worries of tomorrow, and the Lord will give you what you want in this world today.” As if Jesus is teaching some get-rich scheme. This is a very American interpretation.
The reality is, there are a whole lot of people who in fact are not clothed and who are not fed, but who “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” What then? Does that prove Jesus’ words wrong?
Of course not. That’s why I began saying Jesus is talking about something more than the clothes on our back. There’s another clue in the text that He’s talking about something more.
It’s the comparison He uses. He says, “Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like [a lily].” The pattern of Jesus’ teaching is “If God does X to a lesser creature, how much more will He do Y to the greatest creature?” X in this formula is less than Y. But in Jesus’ teaching on clothing – understood in the typical manner – X is greater than Y. The best clothed man in the Bible, Solomon, was not as well dressed as a lily.
Jesus cannot be talking about clothing as we men design and manufacture it. Again, many go to bed without clothes, sleeping naked in the streets. Many are naked in prison. Did not Jesus say, “I was naked, and you did not clothe me”? Where were the lilies then, for the poor fellow whose nakedness Jesus filled?
Hmmm. Maybe we get a clue there what Jesus is really talking about.
Because if in fact Jesus is teaching a clothing from the Lord, in a manner similar to the way He clothes the lilies of the field, we have to surmise He’s talking about the clothing of Jesus Christ, or, being clothed in His righteousness.
Twice St. Paul talks about “putting on” Christ, using the verb normally used for “putting on” clothes. The first verse from Romans has good parallels to what Jesus is teaching about clothing in our passage: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” The second one is from Galatians and talks about when we are clothed with Christ: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Finally, the book of Revelation several times introduces the image of saints clothed in white robes.
That’s the clothing Jesus is talking about. So, the emphasis of Jesus is not so much, “Don’t worry about clothing in this world; the Lord will make sure you have clothing in this world.” That cannot be the focus because in fact many are naked, including Christ Himself. But the fact that Jesus says “I was naked” means He fills nakedness with His presence, and that’s the true clothing we’re given. His emphasis, therefore, is more like, “Don’t worry about clothing in this world, because the clothing God will give you is far greater.”
Does Jesus care whether we’re clothed? Sure, and for most Christians, they are. But that’s because the sun shines on the good and evil alike. It’s not the result of some faith-trick we’re playing with spiritual powers. In fact, as I often like to tell people: be careful; you getting some earthly benefit may be nothing other than evidence that God is loving His enemies.
Jesus doesn’t teach not to worry as some form of earthly wisdom, a formula for living right in this world. In a way He does. The way to live right is to not set your mind on life and its worries, because the we await from the Lord. As St. Paul says, “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven.”