Worrying about survival
Putting it another way: Don't most of us in the physical world worry about survival in one sense or another? If not specifically getting enough to eat or drink, at least be concerned about keeping healthy and keeping our job? Or making sure we have enough to retire on?
For many people of the world, the concerns are more direct: Getting the next meal is a concern for many in third world countries. And during Jesus' time, many were living in this manner of subsistence. They were farmers or fishermen or laborers, and their next meal was often the result of hard work.
Jesus is not telling them not to work. Nor is he telling them not to eat. Rather, Jesus is speaking of their focus:
What are they focusing their lives on?
While "do not set your heart on..." is substantially different than "seek not" - such a translation does indicate that Jesus was not advising his students not to feed their bodies or work to feed their bodies. He was speaking of where they place their focus. Where their consciousness is focused upon.
This is confirmed by the word "worry" - being translated from the Greek word μετεωρίζομαι (meteōrizomai) - which means, when used metaphorically as Jesus was, "to cause one to waver or fluctuate in the mind," "to agitate or harass with cares," and "to make anxious."
Why is Jesus asking his students not to be anxious or agitated by food or drink?
The key to understanding this is identity. Understanding our identity means knowing that we are not these physical bodies. Our physical body is a vehicle for the spirit-person within. And like any vehicle, once the driver gets out, the vehicle no longer functions.
As such, we can compare our physical body to an automobile. We drive this body for a few decades and then we leave it behind at the time of death.
This means that our focus should be appropriate. For example, when most of us are driving our car, we are focused on the car as a means to transport us from point A to point B. And the fuel the car needs is seen as a means to keep the car running as it gets us to point B.
But what if instead, our purpose for getting into the car and driving it was to drive it to the gas station to get some fuel? Would that make any sense?
Most people would laugh at us if the main reason we drove our car was to drive it to the gas station to get some fuel. In such a case, having a car would be purposeless.
But that is precisely why it makes no sense to utilize the resources of this physical body and mind simply for the purposes of getting food and shelter, and protecting the body from danger. Just as we wouldn't drive a car just to get fuel, why use this body just to keep it alive?
Jesus is speaking of using this precious human form of life - a life that comes with the intelligence to investigate spiritual life - to learn about God and make a choice on whether we want to return to our relationship with the Supreme Being.
"For the pagan world runs after all such things..."
The word "pagan" is not a very good translation for the word ἔθνος (ethnos) - which refers to "a multitude (whether of men or of beasts) associated or living together, "a company, troop, swarm, "the human family." It is inferred to mean "pagans" by sectarian thought - but it refers to the herd-like mentality that prevails among human society in general: As most people focus upon - or "run after" - the things that relate to food, sex, survival and the sensual pleasures related to the body.
Frankly, these are also the concerns of animals. And certainly, it is not necessarily bad to keep the body alive, as it provides a resource. But again Jesus is speaking of focusing our lives on our relationship with the Supreme Being:
"But seek His kingdom..."
This is the key point, but the word "kingdom" is not what Jesus is speaking of. If he really said this, then he would be telling his students to be focused on gaining access to a physical place -a self-centered goal.
And isn't this the objective of many ecclesiastical sectarian institutions and their teachers? They wanna be saved so that they can get to this place called heaven. Why? Because they want to enjoy life.
So we must ask - why would Jesus tell his students not to enjoy life here on earth but instead seek to enjoy life in heaven? Does that make any sense? Why not just enjoy life here if enjoying life was the goal?
Oh - is it because if we don't enjoy life now we will be rewarded by being able to enjoy life even more later?
This is, in fact, the proposal of many ecclesiastical sectarian teachers - that if we join their club and make some sacrifices now, we will get to enjoy life in heaven. Some sects even promise their followers they will be able to enjoy a bunch of virgins in heaven if they make sacrifices now. Others speak of "inheriting the earth" - enjoying heaven right here - after all the people who didn't join their sect are knocked off of course.
This is nothing but trickery - it is fraud. And this is not what Jesus said at all.
Jesus used the word βασιλεία (basileia) - which according to the lexicon, does not refer to a physical kingdom at all: "royal power, kingship, dominion, rule;" "not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom."
The word is followed by the word αὐτοῦ - meaning "His" - referring to God. This means that Jesus was speaking of accepting God's royal power and God's dominion, and God's kingship. What does this mean?
It means to accept the Supreme Being as being in charge of my life. It means to surrender myself to the Supreme Being. It means to surrender my will to the will of God.
Jesus wasn't promising his students that they would enjoy life later. He was advising them to focus on surrendering their lives to the Supreme Being here and now. Why? Because this is our natural position.
But seek His kingdom
Each of us is the spirit-person within this physical body. Each of us is a child of God - created by the Supreme Being to love Him and serve Him. As such, this and only this will give us fulfillment.
So why - if the lexicon is clear that the word does not mean "kingdom" - do they insist on translating the word to "kingdom" - not only in this instance, but in many other instances among Jesus' teachings?
Because that is what they want Jesus to say. They want to pretend that Jesus was promising that they could enjoy life even more later.
Because the people who have been translating these words over the centuries - among the various versions of the Bible - have not been interested in surrendering their lives to the Supreme Being. They were interested in getting paid for their translation work, so they translated it as others in the institution did.
In other words - ironically - they were more concerned about what they "will eat or drink" than they were about understanding Jesus' teachings.
When a person accepts someone else's "dominion" over their lives, they are surrendering themselves.
This type of phraseology - accepting another's dominion or rule - comes from a time when tribes or individuals within a tribe might surrender themselves to another tribe or leader after a conflict. Such a position would be to accept control - to come underneath the control of the other.
But Jesus uses this term to speak of a loving surrender - not a forced surrender. Jesus is speaking of falling in love with the Supreme Being and devoting our life to Him. To surrender our life at the feet of the Supreme Being means to give ourselves in love to Him: To live our lives to please Him. This is what Jesus was doing:
"By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me." (John 5:30)This is also the thrust of Jesus' most important instruction:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)