Jesus offered His perspective on what can make us happy and satisfied in this world in Mattew 6: 19-34. He begins His lesson by citing two things that were very important in the ancient world: clothing and crops. A man’s wealth was often noticeable in the fine clothes he wore, but Jesus says that it is foolish to set your heart on something a little tiny moth can destroy! And the grain one collects from the fields can be tainted by rust in the granary or eaten by rodents and insects, so it’s senseless to set your heart on something a small critter could eat away and pollute. Likewise, a thief, if he desires your “stuff” badly enough, will figure out a way into your home and take what he pleases, so once again, is it worth placing stock in something that could quickly vanish?
Jesus admonishes His listeners to store up “treasures in heaven” (v. 20), a phrase that was always associated with a person’s character. As the old Broadway play proclaimed, “You Can’t Take It with You” so it is better to place both heart and mind in a place where “neither moth nor rust destroys and thieves cannot break in”. Jesus concludes this lesson by observing that your heart and the things that it is “set on” reveals where your devotion lies (v. 21). Advertisers know there is a direct link between what our eyes see and what our heart desires. Jesus also saw this connection. He teaches us that our eyes are like windows (vv. 21-23). We all know what a dirty or fogged-up window does to our ability to drive a car. Jesus warns us that if our eyes are foggy or dirty, the darkness in our soul will be even greater. It’s a sobering thought- but one that should keep us on our toes when it comes to what we set our hearts on in this world.
Jesus continues to illustrate His message with another action. Moving from storing up treasures and clean windows, Jesus draws from another aspect of daily life in the ancient world- slaves. In the Roman Empire, two masters could not own one slave. To understand what this implies we must remember two things about the slave in the ancient world. First, the slave in the eyes of Roman law was not a person but a thing. He had no rights of his own; his master could do with him as he wanted. Secondly, in the ancient world a slave literally had no time of his own. Every moment of his life belonged to his master. Under modern conditions a man has certain hours of work, and outside these hours of work, his time is his own. But it was far otherwise with the slave. He was always at his owner’s disposal. Using the word that represented material possessions Jesus says that you cannot serve God and mammon. Either your time will be consumed by seeking material possessions, or it will be consumed by serving God. You can’t do both.
Lastly, in verses 25-34, Jesus illustrates the way a life serving God looks in contrast to a life serving mammon. The former is noticeably carefree because all basic needs are provided by God. Just like nature which is always fed and clothed well, so too is the man who trusts God for these basic needs. However, serving mammon is consumed with worry and anxiety, and unpredictable. Worry is defeated when we acquire the art of trusting God for all things in life and living one day at a time. If each day is lived as it comes, each task done as it appears, then the sum of all the days is bound to be good. Jesus recommends we “lay up our treasures in heaven”. Where have you been putting yours?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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