Jesus’ advice about financial planning begins with a statement that resonates strongly in an age when pension funds are being diverted from their purpose of providing for future needs to lining the pockets of increasingly unscrupulous financial “investors.” (Please do not mistake this for a claim that all financial advisors or investors are crooked. Most do the best they can for their clients. The point is that our financial systems are open to manipulation by people outside the control of our well-meaning advisors, who are only human.)
The memory of German hyper-inflation during the latter part of World War 2 should illustrate how easy it is for savings to disappear because of decisions and policies outside of our control. At the end, a wheelbarrow full of Marks was needed to buy a loaf of bread. (One story tells of how the wheelbarrow was stolen, but the money was left behind because the wheelbarrow actually had value.)
Jesus is illustrating the difference between human-devised monetary strategies and eternal values. Even the strongest empires don’t last. Financial systems are open to abuse by the rich and powerful. Currencies are sometimes intentionally devalued. International monetary policies may force governments to increase taxes. Many other things can happen to eat away at one’s savings. Jesus’ point is that there is no long-term safety or security in human systems.
Allegiance to the Kingdom of Heaven/Kingdom of God brings true, lasting security. It brings rewards that will not be stolen by crooked investors or greedy market-manipulators. Allegiance to Jesus Christ brings everlasting life coupled with eternal success. You will eat from the Tree of Life and drink from the Waters of Life forever.
In the meantime, during the crush of life in our present world, live as though you know you will be provided for by God. Invest in Kingdom work, not just your own livelihood. Invest in helping the people who cannot help themselves. Be generous with the poor. A pure or “single” eye refers to one who is wholehearted in devotion to God and wholehearted in generosity to the poor. An “evil eye” shuts out the sight of the suffering poor and sees only its own benefit.
Allegiance to money may lead to short-term reward, but it also tends to eat up the ability to enjoy life. Security from thieves and vandals may take up a disproportionate amount of the time and money of the rich. Some may even need to worry about the greed of their own family. Increasing wealth increases responsibility for its maintenance, which also increases stress.
Allegiance to God leads to what may be seen as relative poverty, compared to the lifestyle others seem to be leading. Money may be tight. You may even need help from your family, church or Christian friends. But you have a promise from a Father who has outlived all human political and economic systems that it will all work out for you in the long run.
The very, very long run.
We should be cautious, however, in how we apply this section for the following two cases:
1) Not worrying about tomorrow’s food and clothing does not mean that God will automatically provide for those who refuse to put out the effort to work for a living. A certain measure of toil is still a necessary part of human living in an imperfect world. It is a reminder that the Kingdom of God is not yet fully realized. We need be ensure we are not “tempting God” by a willful lack of effort to provide for the livelihood of ourselves and our families.
2) We also need to be careful not to apply the idea that God will provide in a way that blames the poor for their poverty. It should be noted that Jesus was addressing disciples and potential disciples who were not currently starving. Jesus is also telling His disciples in this section that those with more than they need should be looking out for the (actual) needs of those less fortunate among their brethren and even beyond the fellowship of Jesus. Even the previous covenant had provisions for taking care of the poor, the widows and the orphans of Israel. How much more does the New Covenant!
So don’t worry, be happy. Don’t worry about the things that “the gentiles” worry about, like where your food and clothing will come from tomorrow. If you have enough for today, you’re doing well. If you have more than enough, do good.