A while ago we had to deal with ants in the kitchen. How those animals manage to get in is a mystery to me. Apparently, a tiny hole is enough for them to then float across our countertop in a polonaise. Like a true Freek Vonk, I go looking in the backyard for the source of this little suffering. Armed with a loaded kettle, I stand ready at the suspicious hole between the tiles to teach the ant people a lesson. Suddenly I remembered a text in the Bible about ants.
Go to the ants, sloth, see how they work and become wise. Although among them there is no leader, no captain, no king, they gather food in the summer, and stock up in the harvest time. How long, sluggard, will you sleep, when will you get out of bed? Just a little while longer? Sleep a little longer, rest a little longer, lie down for a moment? Poverty comes upon you like a highwayman, want strikes you down like a bandit. (Proverbs 6:6-11)
Solomon is the author of the book of Proverbs. This king is known for his great wisdom. 1 Kings 5:13 says that his wisdom is primarily characterized by his powers of observation. He mainly observed nature; trees, plants and animals, and learned life lessons from them. I want to be obedient to what the Bible tells me, so I grabbed a stool and started observing these little creatures. A busy bunch, I have to give them that. Very busy dragging things back and forth in the ant nest. So, according to the words of wise Solomon, we can learn from them. Ants can be called proactive because they build up a food supply in the summer, so that they have enough for the winter. The message is clear. Be proactive and not lazy or you will suffer from want.
Sheep without a shepherd
However, I have a few comments on Solomon’s words. Is it really true that you should be guided and motivated by fear, in this case fear of lack? Talking about motivating. Solomon notices that they have no leader, captain or king. We now know that an ant colony does have a queen, but that queen does little more than reproduce. In any case, she does not provide leadership. It reminds me of what Jesus says about us humans. He looked over the crowd and had compassion on them, because they looked tired and weary, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus also observed nature to teach us wise lessons. However, Jesus’ observations seem to contradict the conclusions that Solomon draws. Jesus observes birds and lilies and says the following about them:
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor fill storehouses, but your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than them? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his lifespan? And what are your concerns about clothing? Look at the lilies, see how they grow in the field. They do not work and do not weave.
I tell you, even Solomon in all his splendor was not clothed like one of these. (Matthew 6:26-29)
What should we do now? Prepare for impending poverty or not worry and surrender to the care of the Father? Both are right, but the reasoning is from two different worlds. Two perspectives from two different realities. Solomon reasons from an economic system. All of us, Christian or not, are affected by this system. The economic system plays with the fact of scarcity. Now that we are dealing with a corona crisis, with a looming economic crisis hanging over us like a sword of Damocles, many people are living in fear or stress. People lose work and income and wonder how everything will work out in the future.
The Kingdom of God
When Jesus talks about not worrying, He is reasoning from the principles of the Kingdom of God. It seems as if Jesus is alluding to the words of Solomon when He says that the lilies are more beautifully clothed than Solomon in all his splendor. God’s Kingdom is far above this world! In the Kingdom of God there is never scarcity. God’s opponent, the ruler of the world where everything revolves around the economic system, wants us to believe that everything depends on the extent to which we take care of ourselves. The big problem with this is that it distracts us from what we are called to do. We have been transferred to another Kingdom, where different laws apply and where we have been given a new destination. That does not mean that we can rest on our laurels and that everything will just happen. Our calling is different:
Rather, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
Our job is to daily seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. In that reality, it is God’s job to take care of us. If instead of worrying we care for the Kingdom, the Father will care for us. What a freedom and therefore a wonderful challenge to shift our focus from our concerns to concerns for the Kingdom!
I learned my lesson and emptied the kettle over the anthill. I look up and see a bird flying…