Saturday, May 18, 2024

You Gonna Have to Serve Somebody

The Kingdom of God is an odd place.  Why wouldn't you pursue wealth, treasures and money? 

Good question.  

If this world is it and nothing lies beneath nor beyond, then go for it.  Right?

But if there is something else, then we need to pause. Jesus is asking His listeners to pause and think about another way to pursue what life has to offer--but in this life, but in the life of the Kingdom of God. 


“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, [generous*] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy [stingy*], your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." (Matthew 6:19-24)

Treasures...the very word conjures up riches, luxury and a sense of adventure.  The word denotes a kind of abundance, almost a kind of hoarding of valuable things, all stashed to be admired.  At least to us.  

I was curious what the Greek word for "treasures" was. The word is used biblically to describe, "the place in which good and precious things are collected and laid up; a casket, coffer, or other receptacle, in which valuables are kept; a treasury; storehouse, repository, magazine; the things laid up in a treasury, collected treasures." [1] 

Hmmm.  Not too far off from our sense of the word. The word "wealth" signifies something that can be gotten quickly or over time. But "treasures" speak of time--amassing valuable items until the room is overflowing. Not only does the word in Greek describes what is stored--the items themselves--but also the place where such valuables are stored. 

So, Jesus is wanting us to consider both the valuable item itself and where it's put. 

So, if we pursue and amass treasures that are earthly, we have a problem.  Creatures such as moths and vermin get into those things (clothing, textiles, food, anything that can be eaten by little mouths) and they will destroy them.  I remember my mother using moth balls to protect her woolen sweaters.  I have had mice get into a quilted weekend bag and chew through the fabric, taking the bits for nesting material.  My husband's Corvette seat had most of its stuffing removed from underneath it to also provide bedding for some wee mice.  

In a world where houses are standing on the ground, wee creatures getting into things is not unusual. Jesus' audience all have lots of stories of taking valuable items out of storage, only to find them  shredded and full of mouse poop.  Horrified, the person realizes the items is past redemption.  (It is no wonder that the Egyptians made the cat into a goddess--cats saved their granaries from mice and their destructive ways.)

But now Jesus moves from the items themselves to the place where those items are kept. Thieves will break in and take what they can from any place a person stashes valuables. I am sure after awhile thieves know exactly where to look for them in a home, because most people place their items in the same places, thinking they are secure.   

In other words, those things you value here on earth, so will other people.  

People will admire you. People will envy you.  People who will sneer at you.  People will plan evil against you.  What drives you to acquire an abundance equally drives others.  You want more, so do  they. You got more. So do they. You may have even gotten your valuables in a shady way; why wouldn't they do so as well?

Bottom line:  The world gives and the world takes away.  If you live by the world's rules, you will never be at peace because someone, somewhere, wants what you have and will do anything to get it. 

Why do wealthy people live in virtually fortified compounds, with body guards, high walls or in gated or exclusive (we only trust people like us) communities?  Protecting all that wealth.  If wealth made people happy, then Hollywood would be a bastion of joy.  


Now comes the punch line, if you will. Your heart stands by your treasure, like a guard dog.  Your heart worries about your treasures.  Your heart obsesses over them and wonders if they are safe, and if you can obtain any more. 

If you want to know the heart of a person, see where their heart hangs out. See what the person's focus in on.  The next verses speak to that:  If a person is focused on being generous, looking for ways to benefit others with their treasures, then that person walks in the light.  Why?  Because everywhere they look it's not for What can I get, but What can I give? 

This is the Kingdom way: Using the bounty God gives you to benefit others.  God isn't against the treasures--He's against the focus, the energy and the dissatisfaction that wealth brings, because it will never be enough.  Why?  Because we are wired to acquire His gifts: wisdom, service and communing with Him and others. Wealth is a false better, a counterfeit to what God really wants us to pursue:  Himself. 

But if we are stingy, we are full of darkness, because we don't see or want to see others in their need.  We pull away, either blaming them for their woe, or how we can't do enough anyway, or how I enjoy what I have, so I am not giving it away.

Now Jesus boils down His argument into its fundamental thesis:  What you love is your master--whether you want to accept it or not. Your wealth, your prestige, your status, whatever you love, you will serve.  

Dual loyalty is an illusion, for God and money occupy polar opposites.  

Money gratifies you right now. Strokes your ego.  Keeps you moving to obtain more. Makes you blind to others because you just focused on acquisition or protecting what you have. Makes you proud, desirous of others' approving nods. 

God wants you to find life in Him now and in the long haul  Your self needs to die.  You move to serve the Kingdom. Makes you see others as children of God and you look for ways to alleviate their suffering. God wants you humble, desirous of only His approval as a faithful servant.

Jesus was basically telling listeners that day, (to quote Bob Dylan) "You're gonna have to serve somebody.  It may be the Devil or it may be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve somebody." 

The Kingdom of God is odd, isn't it? 

*Text notes for NIV on Bible Gateway.

[1] Strong's Concordance 

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