How Much More: Birds, Grass, or People?

How Much More: Birds, Grass, or People?

How Much More: Birds, Grass or People?

“And Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Stop being overly anxious (merimneo). Don’t be distracted by so much worry about your life – what you’ll eat or drink; or about your body and what you will wear. For life (psyche) is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Think about the ravens! They neither plant nor harvest, they have neither storehouses nor barns, yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than birds? And consider the wildflowers, and how they grow. They neither work nor spin thread. Yet, I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed as beautifully as one of these. If this is how God clothes the grass, which is alive today in the field and thrown into the oven tomorrow, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little-faith (oligopistos)!” (Luke 12:22-34; also refer to Matthew 6:25-34).

It is fascinating that the teacher Jesus we find in the gospels nonetheless remained in the historic flow of Jewish tradition. He taught and preached and demonstrated and told His stories in ways that were accepted in rabbinic circles. Jesus taught like a Jew, He argued like a Jew, He reasoned like a Jew.

One classic method of rabbinic teaching was called the “Kal v’Chomer (pronounced as it looks, except the c is silent).” This was a commonly used strategy of reasoning and persuasion used throughout the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition. Breaking down that Hebrew phrase, “kal” means “Of course, obviously Yes.” And “v’chomer” means “all the more so.” The Hebrew understating of this teaching strategy can be described in many ways: light to heavy; lesser to greater; simple to complex; minor to major; lenient to strict. The kal v’chomer is a strictly logical process used everywhere in Jewish culture, from the courtrooms to the corner conversations to the synagogues. It is used by a speaker when he or she wants the listener to logically arrive at an inescapable conclusion. If is obviously true, then it stands to reason that B is true as well. This process is often spoken of as the “How much more” argument. If A is commonly accepted, then how much more is it likely that B should be accepted as well?

Like all effective rabbis, Jesus used this traditional strategy of argument when He read the room and believed that His audience was up to a logical argument. He would say, ‘If something is true in a minor matter, then how much more true will this major matter be?’ Jesus made successful use of Kal v’Chomer in His public ministry. ‘If this is obviously good, then that must be good as well.’ This is a commonsense type of reasoning that Jesus used many times in His speaking. There are at least eight different times He used this ‘lesser to greater’ approach to persuasion. In fact, because St. Paul loved to use this type of argument, and was probably taught it by the Master Rabbi Gamaliel, the New Testament has well over twenty different passages that include Kal v’Chomer reasoning.

Here in this picturesque passage in the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew) and in front of an immense throng of people (in Luke), Jesus used a telling term for “anxiety.” He is apparently acknowledging that anxiety is a matter of degrees. It is a fact of human life that all of us experience anxiety to a degree. Everyone has at least minor league concerns from one day to the next. But Jesus used a Greek term, “merimneo,” which puts worries into the major leagues. Merimneo is a term that specifically means being overly anxious, when worry has become too much of a presence in one’s life. Merimneo has been described as being perpetually distracted with fretfulness; preoccupied with concern; to remain deeply troubled and unsettled; to operate a disquieted soul (psyche); to have one’s mind divided, unable to focus single-mindedly on trusting the Lord.

Jesus is declaring here that if God cares so well for the less valuable things in nature like birds, wildflowers and grass, how much more will He care for the masterpiece of creation, human beings made in His image! So, Jesus is saying, don’t be consumed with worry about simple life-maintenance things like what you eat and what you wear. Isn’t your sacred life that has divine dignity more valuable than these other concerns that take up so much attention in the lives of pagans who have no faith in God? As the Message interestingly puts it, “There is more to your inner life than the food that you put in your stomach. And there’s more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body.”

Rabbi Jesus then concludes one section of this teaching with, “O you of little-faith.” The Greek term He used here is a word that Jesus invented, “little-faith,” “oligopistos.” New Testament scholars report that this word refers here to those who are dull to hearing God’s voice, disinterested in having a closer walk with their Master. Those with “little-faith” lacked the confident trust in God to take care of their daily basic needs. Those who are described as oligopistos lack the more mature faith He is looking for. “Pistos” is the Greek term most used for faith, and is described this way… reliance upon Christ; loyal faithfulness to God; confident belief in the truths of Jesus; earnest trust in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; being firmly persuaded that the Christian way of life is true; the trust in God that finds its complete fulfillment in demonstrating agape love (Galations 5:6). Faith is that kind of lifestyle that is best expressed in its language of divine love. Jesus wants to help us grow from being “little-faith” to “much-faith.”

Jesus suggested that the best antidote to high anxiety and meager trust is to grow in single-minded focus on God’s Kingdom (Luke 12:31). In other words, trust the King of Creation to take care of you. The grace of the Father-King will not only provide what we need but also throw in His Kingdom as well! Another pearl of wisdom from Jesus, in Matthew 6:34, “So don’t be consumed with worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself! Today has enough trouble already!” Don’t become overly fearful,” He says, for you are worth much more in His grand scheme of creation than birds, wildflowers and grass, as wonderful as they are.