Lent Devotions: Don’t worry, be happy

March 16, 2017

Editor’s note: This Lent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). 

By Dr. Polly Coote

Matthew 6:25-34

Don’t worry, be happy . . .

Some years ago a Greek class chose this quote from Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 hit for its souvenir T-shirt.  This in turn inspired a friend to ask for help in creating a similar T-shirt for a notoriously anxious person of Polish descent.  I called a native speaker of Polish for a translation.  She hesitated, asked for time to think, and finally after several weeks and a second phone call responded flatly, “We just wouldn’t say that.” 

In fact, I’d had the same difficulty with finding an NT Greek translation for the T-shirt: It appeared that Jesus just wouldn’t say that either.  The “don’t worry” part was easy; it’s right here in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not worry” about providing for your possible future hunger, thirst, or nakedness.  The counter to worrying, however, is not to be something, “be happy,”  but to do something.  Even the carefree birds and lilies presumably go about their bird and lily business of growing and producing.  The alternative to the negative command not to worry is a positive command to seek after, to strive – not for sustenance and clothing for tomorrow, but first of all, right now, for the kingdom of God.  Which, according to the final judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-40 would involve acting to provide for the hungry, thirsty, and naked in our midst, for “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  Being happy is not a matter of putting aside concern for vital human needs but rather of translating that concern into bringing about the reign of God.  “Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be fully satisfied.”  (Matthew 5:6)  

Dr. Polly Coote is a former faculty member, associate dean, and registrar at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Even the carefree birds and lilies presumably go about their bird and lily business of growing and producing. 

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