My study group has begun a long-term exploration of St. Ignaius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. I spent time last weekend praying over the passage that begins with Luke 12:22: the flowers in the field, the ravens. It’s all very familiar. At the end comes this verse.
In the context, Jesus has been listing off the basic bodily concerns of human life: what to eat, where to live, what to cover your body with. And he says, “Look, quit worrying. Everybody needs these things. God knows you need these things. He’ll take care of that. Seek the kingdom, and the rest of it will follow.”
First, it struck me that one could (wrongly) read a prosperity gospel into this passage. If you’re well-off, you might get complacent and think it’s because you’re following God and he’s given you all this other stuff as a reward, failing to recognize the complex familial, economic, and social factors that boost some of us and shove others among us down–influences that impact us whether we’re aware of them or not.
But then I started thinking about this word “seek.” My first instinct is to read “seek” as any attempt to get something—so if I get a job of any kind, I’m “seeking” money.
But as one of my study group partners pointed out, the ravens don’t sit in their nests and food falls from the sky into their mouths. They still have to go out and do the work. It’s not that we’re supposed to pretend the physical needs of our bodies don’t matter. That plays into the wrong-headed idea that all things of the body are inherently bad and dirty, when in fact, God gave us our bodies and everything about them as a gift to enjoy as well as to use for his glory.
Of course we have to go get a job and take care of our homes and our families. The question is, where does that priority rank? What comes first? What is the overarching concern that structures my life? Is it getting the better job, the bigger house, the hot car, the position of influence? What is the single concern that comes to mind first whenever I have a decision to make?
Whatever that factor is, that’s what I’m seeking.
Jesus’ point is that the kingdom of God should be that overarching concern, the thing that gives all other questions in my life structure.
It should inform my purchasing habits: what impact does this purchase have on creation? Are those who produced this shoe/shirt being treated justly?
It should inform my work: does this job enable or obstruct the manifestation of God’s kingdom?
It should inform my political decisions: what is the kingdom of God, and given a host of imperfect options and a very screwed-up world, which choice best personifies God’s will, rather than my own comfort?
It should inform my interactions with my children: how do I respond to this situation in order to form them in an understanding of their place in God’s plan?
That’s what it means to seek God’s kingdom. It doesn’t mean you quit going to work or view your physical needs as some sinful side show. It just means viewing all those worldly concerns through the lens of the kingdom.