Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ -Jesus (Matthew 6:31)
Don’t worry about what you’ll eat. Don’t worry about what you’ll drink. Don’t worry about what you’ll wear. These are easy things to say—when you have enough to eat, when you have enough to drink, when you have enough to wear.
But many people in Jesus’ day—people living in poverty under the oppressive occupying force of the Roman empire—did not have enough to eat, or drink, or wear. And neither do many people—in the U.S. and around the world—today.
What do Jesus’ words mean, in light of this? Are they insensitive to the poor? Are they spoken a little too easily?
I don’t think Jesus is speaking from some high and mighty privileged place, here. He, too, was poor. He was born in a barn. He was homeless as an adult, traveling around the countryside preaching and healing and staying with those who would take him in—with people of peace (see Luke 10:5-7), kind strangers who quickly became friends. Jesus isn’t just theorizing and philosophizing and theologizing from some ivory tower, removed from the real world.
Instead, Jesus goes around meeting people’s real material needs—their needs for food, water, clothing. He does other things too, of course—like healing people on many levels, teaching wise and true things about God, and rebuilding broken relationships and communities—but these other things aren’t in conflict with his attention to people’s basic physical needs. It all goes together.
Take food, for example. Jesus doesn’t just tell people not to worry about what they will eat. He also miraculously feeds a crowd of five thousand men and who-knows-how-many women and children, using only five loaves of bread and two fish (Matt 14:13-21). Later, he feeds a different crowd of four thousand men, plus women and children, using just seven loaves and a few small fish (Matt 15:29-38).
We can theorize all we want—and people definitely do—about the significance of these numbers. We can speculate as to why a very similar miracle story is told twice in the gospel texts. And some of these theories might be true.
But could it also just be that Jesus wanted to take care of both crowds’ needs? The need arose for food, so he provided. Later, the need arose again, so he provided again. Who knows how many other times he did this, often in smaller-scale and less dramatic ways, throughout his ministry? (Not to mention the various miraculous catches of fish, as in Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:1-14.)
These are the things I think about when I hear Jesus telling people not to worry about what they might eat. He doesn’t just say “don’t worry”; he actually provides in practical ways for people’s needs.
Likewise, with drink. I think of the wedding at Cana, when the party ran out of wine, and Jesus (however reluctantly at first) changed several large water jugs into fancy-tasting wine so that the party could continue and the hosts wouldn’t be embarrassed by not having enough (John 2:1-12).
I don’t often hear people ask this question: Why didn’t these wedding hosts have enough wine? Maybe we assume it was poor planning, or that their guests drank more than could have been reasonably expected.
I wonder, though, if really the hosts were simply short on money. They wanted to provide enough drink for their guests but weren’t able to. Maybe they hoped people wouldn’t drink much and their secret wouldn’t be revealed. Maybe they could only afford a smaller wedding celebration, but so many friends and relatives and neighbors wanted to celebrate that it overwhelmed the reality of what they could provide.
Regardless, they didn’t have enough. And Jesus didn’t just tell them not to worry about it. He provided what they didn’t have.
When it comes to clothing, then, I think of John the Baptist’s teaching: “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11, NIV). Jesus’ teachings and actions continue in the same vein as John the Baptist’s throughout the gospel stories.
I get the feeling that Jesus didn’t personally have a ton of extra clothing to give away. But he did encourage people to share their resources with one another. He didn’t just tell people not to worry about clothing; he told them to share what they have, so that everyone might be adequately clothed.
We see all of this lived out tangibly among the first communities of Christians (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37). The believers had everything in common. People sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. No one claimed any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.
Because of all this sharing, empowered by God’s grace, there were no needy persons among them. No one was lacking for food, drink, or clothing, because everyone shared. This is the work of the Spirit of God. This is the community Jesus inspired—the community Jesus birthed—through his teaching, healing, leading, and unlikely-friendship-building.
Jesus doesn’t tell people not to worry and leave it there. There’s no guilt for worrying, no shame, no judgment, no condemnation. Just grace, provision, miracles, healing, sharing, community-building, peace. Just needs being taken care of—both directly from God, and, perhaps just as miraculously, through the generosity of fellow humans.
This is what we will eat. This is what we will drink. This is why we don’t need to worry. This is the kind of community Jesus builds.