our response to vulnerability

There are two main aspects of our vulnerability: our needs for provision and protection. Provision involves acquiring food and shelter and medical care. Protection has to do with our response to those who would threaten or attack us. These two activities seem to take up the majority of our time and effort, and in both cases that effort is usually focused on reducing our vulnerability, and gaining security and independence. Not surprisingly, Jesus had much to say about both these activities.

I’d like to consider provision first, since this is usually the primary focus of our daily activities. Because our physical needs are so immediate and important, provision tends to dominate our thoughts and work, so that “work” has come to mean the activity we do to provide for ourselves. The assumed solution to our physical needs is “hard work.” And, if possible, we attempt to reduce our vulnerability in this area by gathering up excess provisions for the future.

This gathering and storing of excess provisions or wealth, however, also leads to new problems. Anything stored up must be then constantly protected from decay or damage. And it also becomes a target for theft, especially when we have a great excess and those around us are in need.

Yet despite these problems, continuous work and storing up are the usual response to our physical needs. Jesus, however, seems to challenge this. He challenges the tendency to gather excess provisions in this familiar passage:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mt 6.19-21)
And he even seems to challenge the assumption that providing for ourselves should be the motivation for our work:
“Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you…” (Jn 6.27)

“And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek God’s kingdom and these things shall be yours as well.” (Lk 12.27-31)
Together, these passages suggest that Jesus responded to the need for provision quite differently than we usually do, and also that he had a different idea about the purpose of our work.