It occurred to me that that last message might have left the impression that a faith-filled life boils down to believing that God will take care of everything, so force yourself to relax. “Let go and let God” is our well-intentioned way of summarizing these sentiments. It’s more complicated than that (aren’t most things more complicated than they may otherwise seem?)
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is counseling in particular against worry about material needs. He is saying that God cares for each of us, and that his love is as particular for each of us as it is for each of the birds of the air—even more so. And that is a deep consolation that frees us not to worry about what we will eat, what we should wear. And my point was that in the face of adversities, that sense of God’s providence can become more dearly known. It is a providence not of some great scheme or plan on God’s part, but a providence (as St. Ignatius knew) of a God whose love is constantly being offered and to be freely accepted. So, why worry about the outcome of our lives when that kind of love is available for the accepting, even now?
But Jesus, following in the tradition of the prophets before him, certainly did not teach some sort of passive acceptance of the world as it is, or of not concerning ourselves about matters that need to be changed. He knew that the world is an ugly place. He was ardently concerned about justice for women, refugees, the oppressed, those cast as “sinners,” and the little people of the earth. And those concerns resulted in dream, a dream of the overturning of every form of injustice into a new thing, a Reign of God, where the rich would become poor, and the poor, in a new sense, rich. He also understood that there are many ordinary things that people are acutely concerned about: sufficient money, shelter, good health, their children’s welfare, the future in radically uncertain times. These are the normal concerns of human beings in the course of a human life. And so, to hear “Why Worry?” might seem insensitive to the fact these dimensions of life do cause worry. That surely is not what Jesus intended, and it can’t be reduced to that.
Perhaps a better formulation would be: Yes, be concerned, even very concerned, but don’t let worry define your life. Keep the bigger picture in mind, the one we can see when we look at the birds, or the lilies of the field. There is a love that meets us at each and every moment, if only we can find the freedom to see it and accept it. And this is sustaining in itself. It helps us face the challenges that life dishes out to us, and to move on with a greater sense of peace and equilibrium than might otherwise be the case.
I would say this, though: The hardest challenge each of us ultimately faces is to accept that we are not in final control of our lives (or of our deaths). Ultimately, we have to yield to the Love that is God. In that much, we are closer to the birds of the air than we might think, though (per Jesus) even more tenderly loved. Jesus is simply saying, why not practice that yielding now? For inevitably we must.