Fresh out of business school, the young man answered a want ad for an accountant. Now he was being interviewed by a very nervous man who ran a small business that he had started himself.
“I need someone with an accounting degree,” the man said. “But mainly, I’m looking for someone to do my worrying for me.”
“Excuse me?” the accountant said.
“I worry about a lot of things,” the man said. “But I don’t want to have to worry about money. Your job will be to take all the money worries off my back.”
“I see,” the accountant said. “And how much does the job pay?”
“I’ll start you at eighty thousand.”
“Eighty thousand dollars!” the accountant exclaimed. “How can such a small business afford a sum like that?”
“That,” the owner said, “is your first worry.”
Ah, yes, money and worry go hand and hand, don’t they? We all would love to pay someone to bear our worries for us, but the thing is, we don’t need to pay someone: Jesus points out that God wants us to be worry free.
Jesus is asked to settle an inheritance claim in Luke 12, but he knows this is a systemic problem of greed within his culture. He tells the crowd that “life doesn’t consist of an abundance of possessions” and then tells the story of the rich man whose ground provided an excellent – abundant – harvest. It doesn’t say whether he just got lucky, or whether the hard work he had labored over paid off. But it says that he had so much harvest that he couldn’t keep it all with the buildings that he already had. He had more than enough.
So, he decided to destroy the barns he already had and build bigger ones – the American dream, right? And then he would sit back, and not work, just living it up in one great party. And that drove God to say, “Tonight, you’re judged and you’re going to die- because you wanted to keep it all for yourself.”
Scary stuff, right there. Most of us want more than we have. Whether it’s a case of more stuff, better stuff, more money, easier money, we struggle, claw, sweat, worry, and work for more, more, more. It wasn’t God’s judgment that the man shouldn’t reap more, but he was judged for how he used it – or rather, his lack of using it for the greater good.
This rich man worried about how to keep, a rather selfish, individualistic word, instead of how to share. He wasn’t worried about his daily bread; he was worried about his bread twenty-five years from now.
This man was worried about himself, not about those around him who had less, even not enough. He lacked satisfaction, he lacked humility.
But Jesus doesn’t tell the parable as a means of judgment; it’s a warning, a teaching moment, and he’s sharing it with his disciples so that they’ll get it. Because he continues with further lessons on worry that still seem applicable today:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes….Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”
“For the pagan world runs after [what they will have], and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
“Do not be afraid, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I have a tendency to worry about things – but I’ve learned that there are ways around it. Of course, you can worry about worrying … but what good will that do?
Scientists have shown that worrying about what might happen can cause your body to overwork itself; you can develop high anxiety, unrealistic fear, hypersensitivity to criticism. Worrying will interfere with eating, sleeping, relationships, task completion, and even lead to various addictions.
Worrying sounds as dangerous to your health as just about anything else!
Seek God’s kingdom, Jesus says. Focus on what God wants for your life, and you’ll have everything you need. Don’t be afraid, Jesus says, like the angels to Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds, because God wants the best for you — there’s good news here.
And Jesus lays out how exactly we seek God’s kingdom: give away what we have and open our hearts up to what God wants. It’s much easier when our heart isn’t about stuff and is about people, it’s much easier not to worry and instead find joy when we’re focused on God’s kingdom and what God wants for our lives.
It’s much easier when we focus on others (God included) and less about us.
I’ve told the story before, so forgive me, but I was ready to bail on college… just a few days into my freshman year. I kept hoping it would get better, but one day I called home, telling my mother I was ready to come home, that I wasn’t happy, that I wasn’t fitting in, that I didn’t have any friends.
My mom’s response? She asked me how much I was thinking about other people? She reminded me that in high school I had focused more on helping others – and that I’d been at peace, that I’d had joy. It was a spiritual … comeuppance. (One of several I’ve received from my mother over the years.)
Lately, I’ve been getting another spiritual comeuppance, from Brant Hansen’s book, Unoffendable. I’m still in the first few chapters, but Hansen asks us to consider how much time we spend being offended, assuming we’re better or more important than we really are. Like the man who thinks he needs more barns rather than sharing his wealth, we think we have the right to anger – another thing stealing our joy – when someone doesn’t do the way things we would do them, or their opinion doesn’t agree with ours, or they take the parking space we thought we’d get, or [fill in the blank].
But if we’re going to be like Jesus, then we should be… unoffendable. We’re here to love and to grow; judging and evaluation and all of that is from God, not from us. Because all of us have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. All of us lack the ability to be like God without God’s grace to grow us into being more like Jesus.
But worry, anxiety, and anger make it all about us and not about God, the source of all things good.
I wonder how today we could find focus outside of ourselves. On who God would have us focus.
Maybe you need to pray the Lord’s Prayer everyday and really live into it, “thy kingdom come”.
Maybe you need to commit to spending time in silence every day during Lent, listening to the whisper of the Holy Spirit.
Maybe you need to surrender an action that causes you to be farther from God, or another person, like an addiction.
Maybe you need to take up the burden of someone else – and help them fight through it, knowing that God loves and cares about them, too.
I wonder – not just a good Christmas word – I wonder, what it would look like if we lived into this dream of God’s kingdom as a reality that Jesus believed in.
I wonder what would happen if we heard God speak – and heard the cries of the needy in our community – and listened.
I wonder what would happen, if we lived a life not of worry but of joy. Joy in action…
This Lent, in the words of St. Francis of Assissi: “May God bless you with the discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and the exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace. May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection and starvation, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.“