Contributors to this passage
Here is a choice/decision:
Treasures on earth - temporary, can spoil or lose its initial value, can be stolen
Treasures in heaven - permanent. Its value never diminishes and it cannot be stolen from you.
This chap who was murdered by the Auca Indians, Jim Eliot, said, "He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." He gave his life. A university graduate, he went to the Amazon (I think) to bring the gospel to the Auca Indians. They murdered him instead. But his wife continued his work and the Indians later became Christians. And to this day, we tell the story of Jim Eliot. What he gained cannot be taken from him.
To a student in school, what is "treasures on earth"? Does Jesus tell us that we should reject such "treasures"?
On Sunday I was at the Emmanuel Methodist Church and the preacher was elaborating on the Good Samaritan. And in describing what the Good Samaritan did in contemporary terms, how he carried the injured man into his car, brought him to Subang Medical Centre and paid for the initial treatment and promised to pay for any other expenses incurred when he returned from his business appointment... the preacher made this remark: "Where got such people one anymore? Such people are an extinct species."
The idea of extinction made me think. Extinction means that such a species is gone forever. Their kind no longer exist. You can't have them ever again, even if you want to. When we choose to do good and selfless acts, even at our own personal cost, we keep GOOD alive, not only alive in our hearts, but also alive in our society. If everyone lay for themselves treasures on earth, the world will become a terrible place, because people will only act for their own benefit, and not out of goodness. And so when I choose to act selfishly, I perpetuate the idea that this is the smart thing to do, and I add more power to the notion that doing the right thing is stupid. This is a poison that will one day ruin our society, our environment, our soul. And at the point when no one is willing to sacrifice, it will be impossible, even if you want to, to choose to do the right thing.
The view that Heaven is more important/valuable than earth is a vital ingredient for the continued health of our community and ultimately, our selves.
"When we choose to do good and selfless acts, even at our own personal cost, we keep GOOD alive, not only alive in our hearts, but also alive in our society."
Last year, I was living with my grandma in Sentul and I witnessed a robbery at the front gate our house. My friend and I chased away the robbers, but the lady was still wounded and bleeding. A lot of people came out of their houses to witness the commotion, but none of them listened to her pleas to take her to the hospital. In the end my friend drove us all to the hospital and I stayed with her son while her husband took her to see the doctor.
What appalled me was that even my aunt and grandma was saying that we should stay out of this person's business. Perhaps it was because she was Indian and the rest of us were Chinese. Or perhaps it was because it was the Malaysian attitude not to help. I felt good that I helped her, but I also know I was motivated by the feeling it gave me to have helped her. I guess I helped also because I was afraid that next time it would be me who was bleeding and no one willing to help.
Back at this time, I was just reawakening my spiritual nature. I have been a Christian since I was about 10 years old, but during the years of University, I back-slided so much so that I don't think I could even say I was a Christian in that period. When this episode occurred, what really hit me was when this lady thanked God that I was there because she didn't know what she would have done otherwise. I suppose this was the Spirit's way of opening my heart again to receive Him. I didn't know it then, but He was priming me to come back.
Even when I used to treat patients, I used to find it rather tedious, but the times when I do a good job and especially when the patient was most grateful, I know that those were the times that I felt really good about myself. I guess it was like that "smile" story that goes something like, someone smiled at me today and it made me smile. The office boy saw my smile and smiled at the receptionist? etc. etc. and the story goes on until that smile saved someone's life. If we can perpetuate enough goodness, we can overcome Satan's shadow on the world.
It is easy to imagine what treasures on earth are, and what we need to do to accumulate them. But what are treasures in heaven, and how do we obtain them?
Perhaps there is some connection to what Jesus has been saying before this. Matt 6:1 talks about reward from your Father who is in heaven. And 6:4 says that when we give alms in secret, God will reward us. 6:6 basically says the same thing, but about prayer. And 6:18 again says the same thing, now about fasting.
It seems that God rewards those who give to the poor, pray and fast. But these activities must be done "for God's eyes only". Otherwise you will get your reward, but not from God.
So a closer reading of the context helps me to see that these few verses are a further reasoning (read: rationale) for why we should NOT practise our piety before men but before God. Because whatever we may receive from men is only temporary but what we receive from God is everlasting.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. If your treasure is on earth, your heart will be on earth. If your treasure is in heaven, your heart will be in heaven.
Treasure can be seen in so many ways. It can be valuables. It can be whatever your heart is set upon. It is the sum result of your life. What you achieve wit h your life is your treasure. (The question is, is that real treasure? The answer to that lies in the preceding verses.)
Heart refers to the focus of your life. It is the seat of the will, the centre of desire that moves the whole person. It is where deep emotions spring. It is the heart that ultimately directs the life.
In this simple statement Jesus tells us that Treasure and Heart are closely intertwined. You can go back and forth. If you count the things of the earth valuable, then you will focus your life on the earth. If earthly rewards move your heart, then you will spend your life acquiring them. If the sum result of your life is earthly treasure, then the focus of your heart can be on nothing else but on earthly gains.
In other words, you start by acquiring what you treasure. At the end, your treasure acquires you. In the beginning your heart moves you to whatever it is set on. And you spend your life to acquire whatever it is that your heart treasures. At the end whatever it is that you have acquired with your life will truly become what your heart treasures.
It is at the beginning that you can determine the outcome of your life.
And so if you count heavenly things as valuable, then...?
I am reading over again the verses in Matthew 6 and I am beginning to notice the language that Jesus used.
BEWARE of practising your piety before men... For then you will have NO reward. DO NOT let your left hand... And when you pray, YOU MUST NOT be like the hypocrites. DO NOT HEAP UP EMPTY PHRASES as the Gentiles... DO NOT LOOK DISMAL, like the hypocrites... DO NOT LAY UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES ON EARTH...
Jesus used very strong language. He spoke in very clear terms, the way a person does when he is warning someone of a dangerous situation ahead. He makes sure that we do not misunderstand him.
Beware of this. You must not be like this. Don't do it this way, do it that way instead. If you do this, then this will happ en. But if you do that, then this will not happen but that will happen instead.
He explains very clearly the thinking behind his warnings. This is the way of hypocrites. What hypocrites do is to appear to be one thing but in reality are something else. They appear to want to be religiously right before God. But actually they just want to be right before men. And they think that when they do this they can "have their cake and eat it." They think that they can please God and score points with men as well. BUT THEY ARE WRONG! God is no fool. He is not blinded by the action. He sees through the heart. And in the solemn words of Jesus, "Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward." They get what they ask for.
These words of warning do not appear to be very serious to us at first glance. But when you examine the language of Jesus, you will see that in Jesus' eyes he is talking about a deadly serious matter. Ultimately Jesus is telling us which road leads to heaven, which road leads to hell (even though everybody, including yourself, thinks you are going to heaven).
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. And where your heart is, lies your destiny.
In the last 5 days meditating on the passage what have I learnt about God?
So do I. But I never associate it with such dire consequences. Is hypocrisy THAT bad?
Hmmm. What about "Greed is good"? "You must be aggressive to get ahead". "There is no shame in being rich". Can I be materialistic and self-centred and everyone else spiritual and generous and helpful, please? What do I have to let go if I really buy that "Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth" thing? What will I become if I don't?
Well this is not something about God. It is something about life.
If what I own now will own me later, what do I wish to own now so that I will have a good owner later? If what I set my heart on now will determine the direction of my life later, what will I set my heart on now?
Father, help me to see things the way you see, the way things should be seen. You have clearly warned me of the danger ahead. But I find it hard to take the warning to heart. Help me to do so. Amen.