Read: Matthew 6:31-32
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that God knows what we need. It is more difficult for us to know what we need. On the one hand, our language around “need” is quite elastic. Much in our culture is designed to blur the lines between needs, wants, and mere caprices. The more these lines are blurred, the easier it is to get us to consume as if all wants and whims are needs.
On the other hand, if we are extremely rigorous, we can probably reduce our basic needs to those that differ little from the needs of a houseplant: food, water, some sort of shelter. We are not houseplants, however. If you dress people in a burlap sack and sandals and plunk them down in the middle of any American city, you have not met their needs; you have simply turned them into a sort of joke. People dressed in such minimalist garb could not function in our world. They could not enter most workplaces; they could not order a meal; no one would rent them housing.
Because we live in communities and play particular roles in the world, our needs cannot be reduced to those of a houseplant. Perhaps our true needs are better articulated in questions about what we need in order to occupy our place in a community with dignity. This approach makes answers to questions about our needs both more significant and more difficult to attain. Answering questions about what we need in order to live with dignity in our context becomes tied up with questions about the nature of our communities, our roles in those communities, and how a community establishes notions of dignity and worth. It is only in the light of addressing these questions, which will require a comprehensive and forthright examination of our lives in community, can we faithfully address the question of what we truly need.
Lord, you know our needs even before we ask. Give us grace and a Spirit of truthfulness so that we each might come to understand anew ourselves, and our place in the world, and in so doing, live beyond our own needs and seek wholeheartedly to serve the needs of others. Amen.
Joe Burnett served as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska and as an assistant bishop in the Diocese of Maryland.