Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34

Don't Worry, Be Happy?

In 1988, jazz singer Bobby McFarrin had a pop hit with his song "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Bobby sung the catchy tune almost a capella, with several over-dubs of his voice. The sentiment of the song reflected the philosophy of Indian mystic Meher Baba: worry only inhibits happiness and does nothing to enhance it.

That message seems almost a truism, but there is a problem with the message. Happiness is not a void of anxiety. Happiness is not a decision against concern. In fact, such a definition of happiness is immature at best, vacuous at worst. Happiness is not found in a carefree but self-centered life. True happiness can only be found in relationship with another person. Indeed, someone can be very happily married, for example, and still face daily worries. Happiness is found in sharing the joys and anxieties of life with someone in whom we love, trust and share hope. Happiness, then, is a life directed to another. The ultimate happiness is a life focused on God. So, it is the direction of life that allows us to sweep away anxiety and seek our goal: the Kingdom.

Popular Translation

Jesus told his followers:

24 No one can serve two bosses at the same time. Either he will hate one boss and love the other. Or, he will become best friends with one and think nothing of the other. You cannot serve God and money.

25 So, listen to me. Don't be anxious about need of your life, like what you'll eat or drink, or like what clothes you'll wear. Isn't life worth more than food you eat and your body worth more than clothes you wear? 26 Look at the birds in the sky. They don't plant and harvest their grain, then store it in barns. But your Father in heaven feeds them. Are you more important to God than those birds? 27 Which one of you can make your life a minute longer, just because you worry? 28 Why are you so concerned about the clothes you wear today? Think about the flowers in the fields and how they grow. They don't weave clothe to make clothes. 29 But, even when he was at the height of his power, King Solomon could not put on finer and more colorful robes than what one of these flowers have. 30 If God dresses up the grassy meadows today, then allows people to burn them in the furnace tomorrow, won't he take the effort to dress you, you who trust him so little? 31 So, don't get upset and say, "What are we going to eat today" or "What are we going to drink today?" or "What clothes are we going to wear today?" 32 People who don't believe in God worry about that stuff. Your Father in heaven knows what you need. 33 Search for God's Kingdom first and his will. Food, drink and clothing will be given to you. 34 Don't get upset about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself. The problems you face today are enough.

The gospel first discusses a timeless problem: the priority of money in life. Then, it moves onto the subject of worries.

Literal Translation

24 No one is able to serve two masters. For, either (he) will hate the one and love the other, or (he) will hold fast to the one and will think little of the other. ( You) are not able to serve God and mammon.

6:24 "serve" is literally "be slave to." In the Roman world, the master held absolute control over his slave, even the slave's very life. For this reason, slave's focus was on one master and only one master.

"Mammon" is a Greek word meaning money.

25 Because of this I say to you, do not be anxious about your life, what you might eat [or what you might drink], not (even) what (clothes) you might put on your body. Is not life more than food and the body clothes? 26 Look at the birds in the heavens: (they) do not sow and reap and gather (the harvest) together into barns, but your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more surpassing (than) they? 27 But who among you being anxious is able to add one cubit (of time) to his life span? 28 Why are you anxious concerning clothes? Learn (completely) from the lilies of the field, how they grow. (They) neither work nor spin (to make clothes). 29 But, I say to you that not (even) Solomon in all his glory put on (finery) such as one of these (flowers). 30 If God so dresses the (wild) grass of the field being (alive) today and tomorrow being tossed into the (stoked) furnace, (will he) not (dress) you much more, (ones) trusting so little? 31 So, you should not become anxious, saying: "What can we eat?" or "What can we drink?" or "What (clothes) can we throw around (ourselves)?" 32 For all the Gentiles seek after these (things). Your heavenly Father knows that you need all (these things). 33 Seek first the Kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 So, you should not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious about itself. The evil of (the day is) sufficient for the day.

6:25 "life" is literally "soul" but in the context, "life" is meant.

6:27 "life span" is literally "maturity." In context, the "add one cubit of time to his life span" meant "add a little more time to his life."

6:33 "Seek first the Kingdom [of God] and his righteousness..." The disciple's first priority is the coming Kingdom and preparing for its coming. In the context of first century Palestine, "seeking the Kingdom" meant active realization and "(seeking) his righteousness" meant active allegiance. In other words, seeking the Kingdom was an internal faith choice, seeking his righteousness meant acting out the demands of that faith choice. The righteousness of God is allegiance and obedience to his will.

6:34 "The evil of (the day is) sufficient for the day." The day's problems are enough to worry about. The number one concern should be the Kingdom.

What does it mean to be a disciple? We can ask that question in a general context, but what does discipleship mean for me in my day-to-day struggle? This is the small picture question of faith. Jesus answered it by asserting the priority of the Kingdom even in the present moment. After all, we can't serve God and worry about our finances at the same time. It's too stressful. Something would have to give.

Jesus compared the priority of faith to mundane worry about financial stability in a series of rhetorical questions and analogies from nature. By itself, worry cannot gives us food or drink or clothes; it cannot add to our life span. In fact, excessive worry can distort our priorities in life, blowing life's "necessities" far out of proportion. Worry can even lead to sin, if its out of control. So, what restores some balance to our spiritual life? Jesus gave simple answer: give all your worries to God. Keep you eye on the Kingdom and let God take care of our food, clothes and life span.

Such simple faith, however, requires discipline. It requires we make prayer a priority, even over such daily matters as a budget and cash flow. Notice, Jesus isn't diminishing worries over these concerns; he's saying that focus on God is more important. So, prayer trumps daily concerns. We are to seek the Kingdom and what it means to walk on the path to the Kingdom. That requires an active, vibrant prayer life, a prayer life that says, "Alright God, I trust you." Such a prayer life is an ideal, but it is a goal that can put our concerns in context.

Take a moment and relax. But take this moment to focus on God. Use this moment to renew your trust in him.

"Don't Worry, Be Happy." That message should be replaced by "Pray and Be Happy." We will never be completely worry-free, but we can use prayer to put our anxieties in context. Money, food and clothes are not the most important things in life, even daily life. God is. He will always be the most important thing in life.

If you know how to pray the Divine Chapet of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, today might be a good time to say the Chaplet. Her message was simple. "Jesus, I trust in you." As you say the Chaplet, focus on that message.