A reflection on Matthew 6:19-34 for Sunday, January 29, 2023 at Mosaic Baptist Church, Gungahlin.
‘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.
‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Matthew 6:19-34 (NRSVA)
The passage above continues Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and, more specifically, Jesus’ teaching on having an audience-of-one which Jesus, as we saw last week, addressed from the beginning of this chapter.
Sometimes the headings inserted into our modern translations are less than helpful. This is one example. It is all too easy to divide this passage into a number of ‘sections’ and forget that Jesus was a capable teacher who often developed a single thought rather than jumping from one idea to the other!
Last week we considered the secret religious life that Jesus espoused. There we recognised the repeated call in the first part of Matthew 6 to give, pray, and fast in ‘secret’. The express reason given was that our ‘Father’ sees in secret and this is a reward in itself. We considered the possibility that this might be more than a reward in a future heavenly state, but also one in the present.
The passage above continues the theme of having heaven as our audience and, given that we are dealing with treasures of the heart, things – like trust in God – that are inherently secret.
Initially, Jesus makes a distinction between things that corrupt over time and things that do not. The distinction here is that one treasure is earthly and the other heavenly. Again, it is worth at least mentioning that we are prone to project the ‘heavenly’ out to a future state beyond this life.
This, I suggest is not only unnecessary, but also a denial of the implications of the incarnation. In Jesus, heaven and earth have come together. There is no necessity to throw Jesus’ teaching on heavenly rewards into a realm beyond this life.
After all, as this passage will assert, there is much to commend putting our trust in God now rather than in the stuff we can accumulate now.
Jesus insists that we are not only able to store up the heavenly, but also that we are able to gather this treasure within our ‘hearts’. There these treasures are unable to be corrupted. They are forever part of who we are. Here is a beautiful picture of how the secret work of generosity, prayer, and fasting can make us into people whose heart is truly inclined toward heaven.
Jesus immediately moves to the metaphor of the ‘eye’ and its potential to fill the body with ‘light’. Far from being a new thought, this echoes the ‘treasure’ parable that proceeds. This is about what we value or look toward. Jesus’ question is a simple one: Is our eye focused on the stuff of earth or the stuff of heaven?
Our answer will give insight into the darkness – or light – that fills our entire ‘body’. Once again we have a very earthy, grounded – and even bodily – description of what living for the Kingdom of Heaven is like.
In the same way that the first parable points to two treasures and the second to two ways of seeing, the third parable points to two masters. Here the challenge of faithfully serving both is put forward as an impossibility. We will either serve ‘God or wealth’.
So far, we have not moved far from Jesus’ opening call to choose our heart’s ‘treasure’ well!
The final part of this passage seems to address the challenge behind treasuring, seeing, and serving heaven while we live on earth. For Jesus, the great ‘Therefore…’ is the call to trust God with the concerns, and worries, of earth.
Most of this passage addresses the fruitlessness of ‘worry’ and its inability to bring about genuine change. The ‘birds’, and ‘lilies’ become an example of creation trusting their ‘heavenly Father’ for sustenance in both life – and in death.
We are reminded here that ‘worry’ cannot add to life, and that God clothes the grass that is alive today and burned tomorrow.
With echoes of Jesus earlier assurance that ‘…your Father knows what you need before you ask…’, Jesus pulls this call to a quiet heart-trust together with the words ‘…indeed your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.’
Yes, God’s knowledge of our need is offered, again, as motive to ‘…strive first for the Kingdom of God…’ knowing that ‘all these things (food, life, drink, clothes) will be given to you as well.’
I find myself wondering how closely all this relates to the secret life of giving, prayer, and fasting that precedes all this. It seems that trust, or faith, is an inherent element to cultivating a life that habitually turns to God rather than the passing stuff of earth.
Do you think the secret life of giving, prayer and generosity are being presented here as hidden ways to develop a life that is genuinely free from ‘worry’ and focused on the ‘Kingdom of heaven’? If so, how important are these practices to living a life of trust in the ‘Father’?
Is there ultimately a freedom from seeking the praise of others being offered here? Is Jesus presenting a simple trust in the Father as an alternative to the burden of religious hypocrisy and the burden of hoarding and holding to the stuff of earth?