“Look at the birds of the air…Consider the lilies of the field…” Jesus contemplates carefree birds that sow and reap not and contented lilies that toil and spin not, yet are robed more splendidly than Solomon.
Really, Jesus? Countless are my cares and concerns – upon which I, more realistically, contemplate – that make this idyllic image unintelligible. Yet as soon as I utter my protest, I hear the voice of Jesus say, “Yes, Paul, really!”
Jesus doesn’t ask me to forget my troubles. Such amnesia is escapist unreality. Rather Jesus, who was troubled unto death, therefore, in the words of the spiritual, “knows the trouble I’ve seen,” points to birds and lilies to remind me to trust God. If God provides for birds and lilies, God provides for me.
Now, I know that I am to trust God. But I also know what Isaiah knew. God’s ways are not my ways. And what the Apostle Paul knew. God’s ways are inscrutable. Hence, God sometimes needs supervision! Sometimes I need to tell God what I need, when and where. (Truth to tell, I sometimes pray like this!)
But whenever I do this, I rediscover that God is incorrigible, refusing to play by my rules. So, I confess, I trust God, but waver between faith and fear.
This, I think, is why Jesus counsels “strive first for the kingdom of God.” The cure for care about many things is to care for one thing: God’s kingdom. No earthly or heavenly domain, but rather God’s very life. Of justice, fair dealing one with another. Of compassion, shared living and loving in suffering and in joy.
Today, on the 197th anniversary of his death, I remember Absalom Jones as one who trusted God, striving for God’s kingdom of justice and compassion. Never one or the other. Always both.
Absalom knew that justice shapes fair policy, but without compassion can fail to see the individual hungering for liberation. Absalom also knew that compassion cares for the individual, but without justice can fail to see the corrupt system that needs transformation.
Absalom trusted God, striving for God’s kingdom of justice and compassion, helping to establish the Free African Society, and later the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia, for the spiritual and social, political and personal redemption of God’s people.
Thus Absalom is honored as: “Zealous for the prosperity of the Church, unwearied in doing good…especially beloved as a consequence of his devotion to the people of God, particularly the poor, the sick, and the longsuffering” (from the Reverend Dr. George Freeman Bragg’s Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, 1916, page 7).
Absalom, therefore, is a trustworthy mentor for me who longs to sing God’s kingdom song of justice and compassion in the foreign land of this world, whose moral economy often is bankrupt and whose political currency remains power in the hands of few exercising control over many. As this is all too true of this world, I know that my trust in God will wane in my fear that the “what is” will continue to overwhelm the “what ought to be.”
Today, remembering Absalom, I say, “Nevertheless!” In the face of my fear, I will sing God’s song; daring to see the world from the point of view of the victory of God’s kingdom already achieved in Jesus’ life of justice and compassion for all. As Absalom knew, then I will know that when I dare to sing God’s song, striving for God’s kingdom, I never truly can be afraid.