Take the day lilies, for instance. They don’t put in overtime or work themselves to death. But not even Donald Trump, with his vast fortunes, has any chance of looking as good as they do. They bloom only for a day, and the next day they’re just fire starter. It’s no great leap of faith to see that if God cares for them, God cares for you.
With this, Jesus says that working hard to get ahead is a waste of time. Not working hard, mind you, but working hard to get ahead.
Wealth, and anything that wealth can get us, is a mirage. Temporary. Transient. As the Buddhists might say, impermanent. Striving after these things is bound just to make us old before our time (and worth nothing but fire starter), to burn us out.
Neither is there any use wearing ourselves and God out by praying for wealth. In spite of what you might hear from the likes of Joel Osteen or Creflo Dollar, wealth is not a measure of God’s blessing. Never has been, never will be.
Instead, Jesus’ says, God cares for you. Now that you don’t have to work to prove how much better-off you are, you’re free to do what’s really important.
“So you think you can rob God? You think I’m fooled so easily? ‘We’d never do such a thing!’ you say. And yet your charitable contributions and your gifts are empty. Damn the whole lot of you for robbing me. Bring something really worthwhile to my house. If you’re going to bring a gift of food, at least make it something edible. Go ahead, try it! See if I won’t rain down blessing on you. I’ll turn away the locust swarm, so your harvest will be rich. I’ll make sure your vines won’t wilt,” God says.
“Then everyone will say how lucky you are because of how wonderful your land is,” says God.
There’s something to be said for the old saying that if something is worth doing it’s worth doing right.
Especially if you’re doing something for someone. You can’t expect much appreciation for something done with a grudge, or done only half way.
If what you’re offering to someone as a gift isn’t really the best you have to offer, don’t expect them to treasure it.
Most people can see right through a gift insincerely given. Most people can tell when you’re just phoning it in, when your heart’s not really in your work, when you’re putting in time but not putting in the passion. And if most people can tell, any God worth talking about can tell, too.
When you’re putting your passion into your work, and when you’re doing your work as a real offering of love to the world – whatever that work is, whatever service you offer – that’s when things start to move. That’s when people start to come together around your mission. That’s when putting in the effort starts to pay off.
Not to mention, that’s when you will find that in spite of it’s being the hardest work you’ll ever do, it’s the work that will bring you the most happiness.
You don’t know? You haven’t heard? Nobody’s ever told you the story from the beginning? You haven’t understood the rudiments of creation?
It’s God who sits above the great circle of the earth, From whose perspective people are like ants, Who hangs the heavens like hanging curtains, Who unfolds the sky like unfolding a tent, Who makes even princes into nobodies, And who nullifies the laws of kings.
They’re hardly planted, Hardly have they hit the ground, Hardly have they sprouted, Hardly have they taken root, When God blows on them And they wither, And the wind blows them away like grass clippings.
“Who will you compare me to? Who is my equal?” God asks. “Raise your eyes to the sky and see. Who created all this?”
God brings out the whole panoply of stars Numbers them, Names them, And because God is so powerful, So awesome, Not a single one goes missing.
How can you say, Jacob – Israel, how can you talk like: “God can’t see where I am,” And “God has let my rights be ignored”? You don’t know? You haven’t heard? God is forever, The maker of everything that is. God doesn’t get worn out or tired. God knows more than you can even guess. God empowers the worn out, God revives the beat down.
Even teenagers get tired and pass out. Even young people crash when they’re exhausted. But those who live in God Renew their strength, They take off like eagles, They run without tiring, They walk without feinting.
This is Isaiah’s answer to the defeatist, “we can’t” attitude.
To put it into context, this is the opening scene of Israel’s return from exile. Permission has been granted to return home, but it’s going to be a long trip. Many of those who are contemplating making it are old. They’ve lived in exile most, if not all, their lives. They’ve been beat down all their lives. Now, though the way is open, some are saying, “Never mind. It’s too hard. It’s too far. We can’t. We just don’t have the energy.”
Against this tide of defeatism, the prophet reasserts that what they cannot do on their own can be done by God’s strength and help. Even the teenagers and the youngest people are going to get tired out on a trip of this magnitude. Never mind, God will provide strength for the journey.
Behind this particular story of one community’s grappling with whether they are ready to make a journey home is the story of everyone who ever had to consider taking on a task that seemed, before it began, too great a thing to even bother considering. The question for every person, and every community, behind this story is: am I (or are we) going to attempt the thing we’ve always dreamed of doing. Even for those who don’t believe in God, the question remains: Do we believe the world we dream of is worth the effort and risk and sacrifice to attempt bringing it about?
To consider that kind of question, the prophet suggests that what we really need to take stock of is whether we really believe in the viability of the worldview we say we believe in. For the Israelites (and for people who believe in their God), the question is: Do we really believe what we say we do when it comes to our God’s ability to get us through this? We’ve heard the stories of God’s deliverance and power. Do we really believe them, or are they just stories? Because if we believe them, then we are responsible to act on that belief. Whatever you believe in, it’s time to put your effort where your faith is.
By now Jesus had become so well known that King Herod heard of him. Some folks had begun spreading the rumor that John, the Dunker, had been raised from the dead, and that was why Jesus could do all these miraculous things. Other folk were saying he was Elijah. Still others were saying he was like the great truth-tellers of ancient history. Herod, though, who had beheaded John, resolved that Jesus was John back from the dead.
When people start talking about you, they’ll come up with all kinds of stories. Especially when you’re doing something that really is great, people will start to explain your work away. They’ll make up reasons to believe it’s not really you.
With Jesus, they couldn’t accept that he was his own person. He had to be somebody else. It wasn’t that Jesus was simply doing great things because he was Jesus. It had to be that he was a supernatural phenomenon. He got his powers from the underworld. He’s some kind of ghost, back from the dead. (Of course, some people still think this.) He can’t be making powerful changes in people’s lives because he’s Jesus, they think, but he must be some manifestation of the mythological Elijah, or one of those other great people from the past. They just couldn’t accept that Jesus was simply Jesus.
It’s not just Jesus, though. If you’re doing great stuff, people will make up reasons why it’s not really you. You were just in the right place at the right time. You got lucky. You were born with a silver spoon. You managed to find some kind of shortcut to success, or took advantage of something nobody else knew about. Like Herod, their reasons for thinking these things may be their own guilty conscience. In the majority of cases, you just don’t know where the rumors come from, or why.
It’s part of doing great work. In spite of being misunderstood, Jesus keeps on doing it. Every day. Changing lives. Restoring people to wholeness. Confronting oppression. Bringing those who had fallen through the cracks back into the web of humanity. Regardless of what everyone else was saying.
A few years ago, cartoonist Hugh MacLeod published a little book with the title, Ignore Everybody. It was good advice.
It’s part of doing great work. Jesus did it. You can, too.