Where is your treasure?
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but store 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 your heart will be also.-Matthew 6: 19-21
We hear this passage each year on Ash Wednesday, as it launches the season of Lent, a time for self-examination. The punchline to the gospel reading about the connection of treasure and heart hits me hard every time. It swirls around in my head, often in an unsettling way.
Jesus really knows how to get to us. With his statement about treasure and heart, we are called to take the following questions through the season of Lent, and beyond. We’re called to ask: Where is our heart? What do we really treasure?
Our treasure may be stuff: Fine collectibles. Savings, investments and assets. Highly valued toys. Our treasure may be less tangible. Our reputation, relationships or resume. Our pride at accomplishment. Our distasteful sense of being better than somebody, anybody.
Jesus’ challenging words make me think about related counsel from a desert father, Abba Poemem. To his students, he offered this timeless challenge: Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart. Which leads back to the question: Where are we giving our hearts?
I found myself wondering if what Jesus was really saying was that we do not always own our treasures. We may think we do, but often, they own us. They shape us. They make us behave in ways we would not otherwise behave.
Case in point: The history of slavery in our nation. Clearly, many people over those centuries knew it was horrific, that what they were doing was out of line with God’s intention for all people. But slavery was key to the economic health of the nation at the time. That sense of treasure made people behave in ways they would not have otherwise behaved. It made people make excuses, twist logic and deny fact to hold on to wealth. Change was not in the cards. I’m wondering in what ways do we do the same things these days. Any thoughts?
Above, find the story of Jesus’ encounter with a rich young man. It says Jesus loved this guy. That is not said of every person Jesus encountered. Not that he didn’t love them all, but there was special affinity here. As the young man asks what was required of him, he shared the ways he’d done all the right things, checked all the boxes. Jesus says there’s just one thing more. If he wanted to follow Jesus he needed to shift his treasure, surrendering his material possessions. He needed a change of heart that meant thinking in new ways about his treasure.
The young man can’t make the shift. He goes away sad. Jesus is sad. The whole thing is sad, as sad as the many ways that we give our hearts (our souls, our minds, our strength) to that which will not satisfy our hearts, to things that will not remain, to things that are not good for us.
While there’s plenty of challenge here, there’s also opportunity. It begins with gaining clarity about where our treasure lies. There are a number of measures we can consider. Start with a look at credit card statements. Look at calendars. They may not tell the whole story, but they offer insight into where we’re giving time, talent and treasure.
When it comes to where we locate our treasure, a lot of us diversify. We are pulled in many directions. That may be a good investment strategy, but when we take it to the level of what we worship and who we follow, we may uncover competing vocations calling to us. We can be about everything and about nothing. How can we gain more focus in what we treasure?
Later in this sermon, Jesus will say seek first the kingdom of God, with the promise that all the rest will fall in place (my paraphrase). I’m feeling like the answer to all this is to think each day about how we can with gladness and singleness of heart give our heart to the kingdom, the rule, the reign of God. How can we give our heart to the way of love articulated by Jesus, that which will satisfy our heart? Jesus promises that when we do that, everything else we need will be added. Dare we believe it?
Let me close with two brief parables to chew on today: The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and reburied; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44, 45)