Patience Strong was the pen name of someone who used to write regular ‘uplifting’ thoughts for a magazine here in the United Kingdom. They tended to be a bit ‘motherhood and apple pie’ as the Americans say. The final verse of chapter 6 of Matthew’s Gospel sounds a bit Patience Strong unless we read it, as Matthew obviously intends, in the context of his chapters 5 to 7.
“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Chapter 6 verse 34)
The Greek word for ‘worry’ here pops up again in Matthew’s explanation of Jesus’ parable of the sower (chapter 13 verse 22) where it is translated ‘the cares of the world’. These are concerns that choke off the growth of the seed. There’s a suggestion of a divided mind as we saw a few verses back in this chapter. (See the last three or four posts in this blog). Us humans are addicted to the divided mind aren’t we? Addicted to worry I mean. It’s a perversion of the human genius for asking ‘what if?’ – a gift that has enabled us to survive countless threats throughout the millennia of our emergence. We are good at predicting and preparing for future situations. That’s how we developed agriculture all those millennia ago. But it is this very gift that becomes addictive and so inhibits our creative capacity to cope with real emergencies. Much more seriously, according to Jesus, our addiction to ‘what if?’ inhibits our emergence into full humanity. So we find ourselves constantly having to react to emergencies instead of allowing the growth of the seed (what Jesus calls the kingdom of God) that would actually equip us with infinitely greater capacity to cope creatively with all the problems that begin to threaten our very existence as a species.
So my task, as one vulnerable individual among the billions on the planet, is to nurture the seed planted in me and that means dealing with my addiction to my divided mind, to worry about stuff that might happen, about stuff that has happened and might happen again.
How? We could begin by recognising that what I am talking about is acutally a form of addiction (a word we usually reserve for drug or alcohol habits). For depressed people it’s an addiction to ‘I’m useless; I’m no good’ thoughts. For some of us it’s an addiction to resentment about something someone did to us in the past. We can be addicted to worries about our health, the food we eat, the clothes we ought to buy – just as Jesus suggested in verses 25 to 33 of this chapter. Many of us think this state of affairs in our heads is a normal part of being human. We don’t see it as a form of addiction because we don’t know there’s any other way of being. If we are lucky, however, we get dissatisfied with this way of being and we begin to wish we didn’t keep thinking these thoughts. With such dissatisfaction comes hope that things might be different.
We are coming to two crucial bits of Jesus’ teaching in chapter 7 of Matthew’s Gospel. They offer a rehabilitation programme for our addiction. They will be the focus of my next blog post.