In my New American Standard Bible (NASB), Matthew 6:25-34 has the subtitle “The Cure for Anxiety.” I have to chuckle every time I look at it, because this passage often gets treated as exactly that, especially that famous final verse that begins “So do not worry about tomorrow.” Well-meaning Christians use it as a platitude, at best, a way to avoid actually engaging with the very real worries of exam stress, chronic illness, economic precarity, and all the other things that afflict the most vulnerable among us. At worst, the passage is used as a weapon, a way to differentiate the good Christians (the ones who don’t worry) from the less-good Christians. Either way, the “cure” seems woefully inadequate.
But these same verses remind us that the mark of a “good” Christian is actually “seeking first the Kingdom of God,” which, as Jesus’ example pretty clearly shows us, means in large part caring for each other, especially the most vulnerable. The “cure for anxiety” begins with an acknowledgement of the abundance of our Creator’s care, but it is incomplete until we begin to act in reflection of that care.
The Kingdom of God, the righteousness of God, are things in which we are called to participate, not just to think about. That participation does not require our perfection, just our willingness; it does not require answers, just searching; it does not require single feats, but a slow, collective process. This passage says, if you are seeking the Kingdom of God, you are considering where the birds in your life are finding their food. If you are seeking God’s righteousness, you are helping to clothe the lilies of your particular field. And, when you are involved in this collective practice of love, your care is provided by your fellow-workers. All these things will be added to you.
In “Bringing a Dish to Share with the World,” Michelle Kao Nakphong says that an important, and often-forgotten, part of ministering to the vulnerable is making space for the vulnerable to minister. An important aspect of working for the Kingdom, she reminds us, is living into our own vulnerabilities and refusing to set ourselves up as people who have it all figured out, who have no needs unmet, who do not worry. We must consider, yes, where our community’s metaphorical birds eat, but we must also be open about the fact that we, too, are in need of feeding. The collective practice of love involves receiving care just as much as giving it.
And this, ultimately, is the cure for anxiety that Matthew 6 proclaims: not to speak platitudes, not to judge the worry of others, but to enter into relationships of mutual care that, sanctified by the indiscriminate, lavish provision of God, create the conditions for our worry to be subsumed by love.
Jessica Stilwell is a member of the Board of Governors of Montreal Dio. She works as a library technician at Centre Communautaire Innovation Jeunes and as a freelance editor. She is a deputy warden at St. Matthias Anglican Church in Westmount.