What Jesus taught from watching birds has troubled me for some time. I wonder how you explain it. Before I say anything, let this question be asked because this is what troubles me: in what sense is it true that God provides for all those who trust in him by focusing on kingdom? What about the many Christians who starve or who die of nutrition or whose clothing is inadequate? Is it really so simple as (what the Germans call a) Spaziergang in the park or a light stroll on a Sunday afternoon? Is this teaching simply about provisions in general? Or is it contextually limited?
I learned, while in Seminary, to be a birdwatcher from Kris’ grandma. Shortly thereafter, we got a Roger Tory Peterson Field Guide to Birds East of the Rockies and it has been continually updated ever since. John Stott is perhaps the most well-known ministerial birdwatcher (see his book, The Birds our Teachers or something like that. And Peter O’Brien, the Aussie NT scholar, is also a birder of some distinction. I have a picture Peter once took of a hummingbird. Mine, however is not so refined and is one of amateurish enjoyment, but I do like birds. So did Jesus. In fact, he found them iconic.
Here is what Jesus saw “through” the birds:
1. Pagans worry about the material realities of life too much.
2. Birds don’t; flowers are more beautiful than the clothing of humans.
3. Therefore, do not worry about your food or your drink or what you will wear.
4. Because God, who loves you, will look after you — especially if he looks after birds and flowers.
5. So spend your time on the kingdom of God.
I’ll not get romantic here, which some have a tendency to do — nor will I extrapolate things about spirituality from what they’ve learned about birds. Jesus’ point is far simpler than the many things said of him. All he says that God cares for them, and he’ll care for us.
And Jesus says that, since God provides, his followers can unreservedly devote themselves to the kingdom of God and God’s justice — God will look after them as they pursue that kingdom and that justice.
Perhaps the only way out of the obvious problem this text forces upon us is to say that it applies to the followers of Jesus in their missional work of spreading kingdom living to other Israelites. And it was limited to that sort of context. That is, in a context of general provisions, the followers are summoned to suspend caring about their needs, spread the kingdom, and let God provide.
Does this work for your view of the text?