Lent, Day 22 — Treasure

Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount

Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in [the heavens], where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 CEB)

  1. Before we talk about these verses, let’s summarize: Jesus is still talking about how his followers need to be different from the rest of the world: More invested in changing their hearts than their religious leaders are (“y’all’s righteousness must exceed the scribes and Pharisees”), but not for the purposes of showing off (“as the hypocrites do”). I believe that one reason people claim to be “spiritual but not religious” is actually because we’ve done a good job teaching the previous part of the Sermon on the Mount! They look at the institutional forms of religion around them, the fundamentalism and hypocrisy, and say, “That ain’t Jesus.”
  2. Here he pivots to talk about money, and spends the next half-chapter telling us how to relate to it. While I think many people hear and understand Jesus’ critique of institutional people-pleasing religion in the previous sections, we are all challenged by this next section.
  3. Stop collecting treasures, or “You can’t take it with you.” These verses are not just an abstract theological statement. The ancient Egyptians and Chinese, for example, believed that you certainly can take it with you. Their tombs were filled with treasures that the dead would need to conduct business in the afterlife. Emperor Qin Shi Huang was buried with eight thousand terra cotta soldiers to protect him. King Tut was buried with a golden chariot.
  4. Moth, rust, and thieves. Three kinds of destroyers for three kinds of ancient wealth. Back in the day, all clothes were handmade and expensive. Jesus’s tunic was valuable enough to be gambled over. But moths chew through clothes, rust ruins weapons and tools, and thieves take money, jewels, and gold. That pretty much describes anything in the ancient world worth hoarding. Today Jesus’s destroyers might include hackers and financial bubbles. Much of our society’s wealth is virtual and conceptual—it doesn’t even really exist!
  5. Hear this phrase: “Collect treasures for yourselves in the skies.” Say it with me: “Heaven” is not a place you go when you die. Jesus is inviting us to remember that we are citizens of the universe. We don’t need to invest ourselves in things we put in a closet or vault, but in the expansive skies.
  6. Some religious people hear this literally. Every good deed is a star in your crown, an extra room in your mansion, another number in God’s ledger. But we don’t need a transactional God.
  7. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Wow. What a sentence. Every time I read it I wonder what it would mean to meditate on this line every day. How would my life change?
  8. This is a core principle of the spiritual life. It doesn’t tell you what do, like “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and body,” or “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Instead, it describes a spiritual law, like gravity. What you pay attention to grows in importance. Who you are becoming depends on where you are investing yourself.