“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33
It’s rare that I remember my dreams, but the other night I did. In the dream, my parents had decided to buy a small trailer home in Boston. The trailer was going to cost them $1,000, and after they had given me a tour of their new digs, they asked if my husband and I could contribute. I had said we might donate $200, but apologized because I had grown up thinking that making a lot of money wasn’t really that important. And now, in the dream, as I was apologizing that we couldn’t afford to contribute more to my parents’ new trailer-park digs, my dad burst into tears, apologizing for never telling us kids that money really is what makes the world go around after all.
Then I woke up.
The dream was “other-worldly” in a number of ways. First, when all I ever hear about, whenever the subject of a far-off retirement comes up, is how my parents want to move back to Malaysia, where they once served as missionaries, the notion that my parents would buy a trailer home in Boston to whittle away their golden years is a bit, well, suspect. (For that matter, do they even have trailer homes in Boston?) Then, that the trailer home would cost $1,000 and my parents would be asking for my help to buy it is also a bit fishy. (Isn’t $1,000 cheap by trailer home standards? And why would my parents be asking for financial help, when they’ve never asked for help from us kids before?) And then the whole notion that my dad, upon hearing my regrets that I’ve not made enough money in my life, breaks down and cries, is pretty much another big aberration from reality.
That’s because Matthew 6:33 has been one of my dad’s favorite verses. Considering that he and my mom have pretty much lived their lives by it, it would not be inaccurate to describe Matthew 6:33 as his life’s signature verse. “Kris,” he said to me several weeks ago, “I’ve never not known that verse to be true. God has always taken care of us when we put God’s kingdom first.”
Then Dad went on to tell me the story he has told a hundred times before- about how one day when tuition at the international school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was due, and my parents had no money to pay the $2,000 bill, a businessman they had never met rang their doorbell, handed them an envelope, and said, “God wants me to give this to you.” Inside the envelope was a check for $2,000. When the same man showed up later that year, again with the exact amount needed to pay for our tuition, my parents knew that this exchange was more than a serendipitous coincidence. God was indeed providing for a missionary family who had determined they would never actually “solicit” funds from anyone but God.
The story, no matter how often it gets told, gives me goosebumps; but it doesn’t change the reality that when it comes to finances, I’m programmed to distrust God’s provision for me. I’m programmed to worry that there won’t be enough. And, if my dream had a message to send, it was that my anxieties about being able to provide for my loved ones and my worries about “measuring up” by this world’s standards are writ large across my subconscious. At the subliminal level, I am a creature who desires her security. In a world that places a premium on our monetary value to society, I want to be “valuable.” I want to matter at the most basically quantifiable level. In this sense, it is against my whole nature to live by Jesus’ words here- that “what to wear” or “eat” or “drink” need not preoccupy us, because when we put God’s kingdom first, “all of these things” will fall into place.
I know I’m not alone. In our society it seems easier and more socially acceptable to talk publicly and openly about our life in the bedroom than about our finances. We guard our personal spending habits as if they’re on the same list as the rest of the “inalienable” rights we claim as Americans (free speech, free religious practice, etc…). The latest bruehaha over presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s refusal to produce recent tax returns, in addition to being justified- (as far as I see it, anyone running for the highest public office in this country must be willing to surrender their privacy around certain things)- is a testimony to the way many of us think about how we earn and spend our money. Letting others see our bank account is like letting them look into our souls: it’s like letting them see our deepest fears and our biggest priorities. If we are what we eat, we are also what we spend- and many of us are scared, worried, insecure children.
But, if Jesus’ kingdom is one in which the last shall be first and the “least of these” shall be greatest, where “family” has been redefined to mean “anyone who does the will of God” and our “neighbor” broadened to include anyone who has a need, then this kingdom is a place where God takes care of everyone. Where everyone has more than enough to be happy and complete. Where love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness and kindness reign, and where human beings have been restored in right relationship with their Maker and with their world. Where both hungry tummies and ravenous souls are filled to full measure. Where even the smallest of gifts, like a child’s lunchbox meal, can feed thousands of people.
It doesn’t take much looking around to discover that this “kingdom of God” is not of this world even as it is precisely for this world. The World Health Organization estimates that if one-third of the world is well-fed, two-thirds of the world are either under-fed or starving. Half of the children who die in the world, die because of malnutrition. Every day almost 16 thousand children die of hunger.
I wonder what would happen if, in the spirit of others who have experimented with following various commands in the Bible (most recently, Rachel Held-Evans and her year of “biblical womanhood,” and before her, A.J. Jacobs’ “year of living biblically”) we as individuals and as the church resolved to follow just this one charge from Jesus here. What if, instead of just mouthing the words to the Lord’s Prayer in our often namby pamby way, we really prayed “thy kingdom come” and then sought that kingdom each and every day for one whole year? What if we, both as individuals and small groups and churches, vowed to put God’s kingdom first in our lives, in our families, in our workplaces and communities?
Maybe we would change; maybe our world would change- from statistics on hunger to even our dreams, and in the place of trailer-park hovels there’d be spacious mansions with many rooms and plenty for everyone.