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Matthew 6:19-24

April 18, 2011

In 1970 the average American home was 1400 square feet; in 2005 it was 2400.  We keep building our homes bigger and bigger.  Even with all of this extra space, one out of ten American households doesn’t have enough room for all of its stuff, and so rents storage space.

Verse 19 is one that most Americans obviously ignore.  We especially value storing up “treasures on earth.”  I remember a popular bumper sticker from some years ago:  “He who dies with the most toys wins.”  That does seem to be the philosophy that guides many of our lives.

But what’s wrong with collecting a lot of treasure on earth?  Jesus is saying it skews our priorities.  If we are collecting lots of stuff, we then have to find a place to put it all (thus, bigger and bigger houses).  We also have to protect it so no one steals it (thus, costly security systems, and making all sorts of life decisions based on worry and paranoia).  And what has gotten lost in the process?  Concern for others, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and being as committed to the needs of others as to our own needs.

As Woody Allen once said: “You can’t have everything.  Where would you put it?” 

Storing up “treasures in heaven” doesn’t mean going to church and praying a lot so that when you die you’ll have accumulated a lot of brownie points in heaven.  Treasures in heaven means that one is treasuring the kingdom of God, making God’s will a priority here on earth, so that all of humanity may experience a healed world.  Burglars can’t steal our love for others, and peacemaking never rusts away.  These are the treasures that should guide the energy and resources of our life.

The little parable in verses 22-23 uses images that are puzzling to us.  But I think Jesus’ point is that how we view life (our “eye”) determines whether our life is filled with light or darkness.  If we view life with a narrow eye, a selfish and stingy and self-protective eye, then very little light will get into our lives.  But if we view life with a wide-open eye, a generous and loving and self-giving eye, then light floods into our lives.

And then, to make the point as bluntly as possible, Jesus says we can’t serve God and money.  It’s one or the other.  These two masters have diametrically opposed priorities.  Serving God means to serve others.  Serving money means to selfishly serve ourselves.

We often forget that Jesus speaks more about the dangers of wealth than on any other topic.  We forget this because our culture has convinced us to make peace with wealth-making.  It is central to the American dream and our nation’s prosperity.  Perhaps we should make major adjustments to Jesus’ teaching, since Jesus never knew the benefits of a captitalist system in which we all pursue our own profit. 

I agree that Jesus lived under a very different economic system than our own, and his teachings should be understood within that system.  But Jesus was addressing universal truths about human nature, and regardless of the economic system we live under, certain principles remain constant for those who are seeking the kingdom of God.  Principles such as:  pursuing the common good is more important than pursuing our own good; we should voluntarily–as an act of genuine love–use and distribute our resources so that everyone has their basic needs met; and peacemaking is more important than profits.

I write this conscious of the fact that I live in a relatively large home with lots of possessions.  I will be spending considerable amounts of money putting my kids through college–money that could have gone instead for putting poor African kids through high school.  I compromise.  I fail Jesus’ test.  But rather than wallowing in guilt, which is pointless, I keep looking for ways that I can gradually move closer and closer to Jesus’ vision for all of us.  I do this because I want to.  I do this because I’m grateful to God for a gift-filled life.  I do this because I enjoy giving and letting the light of love and generosity into my life.  I do this because I want to see the kingdom of God come.

One Comment
  1. Thank you for the very well written post.

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