We live in anxious times: an Ebola epidemic in Africa; civil strife in Ukraine; and the martyrdom of Christians in Iraq. A sense of anxiety is widespread in our society today. Against this background, one sentence from Paul’s epistle to the Philippians rings out: “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
This theme of anxiety runs through two of the other readings. In the passage from Exodus, the Hebrews become anxious when Moses is delayed returning from the mountain. Imagine their predicament. Moses has liberated them from slavery and led them out of Egypt. After several months of journeying through the desert, they have encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses has gone up on the mountain, and the days have turned into weeks since they have seen him.
They start to panic. They do not know what has become of him. Their anxiety mounting, they turn to Moses’ brother, Aaron, and ask him to make new gods for them, in direct violation of the commandments they received from God. Convinced that they will never see Moses again, they choose new gods to go before them and lead them out of this wilderness. They should have had the faith to trust that God would not abandon them, and that Moses would indeed return to lead them once again. But their anxiety led them to commit the sins of rebellion and idolatry with deadly consequences.
This theme is subtly present in the Gospel parable as well. When the king sends his servants to summon his guests to the marriage feast, they refuse to come. One goes off to his farm and another to his business while the rest seize, mistreat, and kill the messengers. Notice the irony. The king wants nothing more than to give a party; but his intended guests are too anxious and preoccupied with the affairs of farming and business to have a good time.
Now back to Paul. In today’s epistle, he exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord. As Christians we are called to be joyful even in the most distressing external circumstances, because “the Lord is at hand.” Knowing that the Lord is near is always grounds for rejoicing. So we come full circle to the verse with which we began: “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Paul calls specifically for thanksgiving, partly because the prayer of thanksgiving reminds us of how richly God has already blessed us. If we cultivate the virtue of gratitude, then joy will surely follow.
Paul concludes: “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” While the mind is a great gift of God, it can breed worry. But the peace of God passes all understanding. It reassures us that whatever happens to us in this life, we still belong to God. We need not be anxious, because from the perspective of eternity, everything is going to come out all right. As Dame Julian of Norwich puts it, “all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Thus freed from anxiety, we rejoice.
Look It Up
Using a concordance or a Bible software program, look up instances of the words anxiety and trust. What patterns emerge?
Think About It
Why can anxiety lead to sin, as in today’s Scripture readings? How is trust in the Lord a remedy against anxiety?