12 August 2016

Matthew 6:19-21

“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.” (vv. 19-21)

Psalm: Psalm 134


Jesus is clear, we must be very careful in our attitude to material wealth, attentive to what we accumulate, value, and store up as treasure. Jesus instructs us to locate our treasures in heaven. Heaven, the dwelling of God is referenced in Deuteronomy 28:12: "the Lord will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens".

This is surely one of the most difficult texts in Scripture. Warren Carter in his book Matthew and Empire (Trinity Press International, 2001) believes Matthew's Gospel presents a social challenge in offering a different vision and experience of human interaction and community. Instead of a hierarchical, exploitative, exclusionary community based on "their great ones being tyrants over them, it creates an inclusive, merciful, egalitarian community based on practical, merciful, loving service to others".

A call to discipleship is a call to live differently as an alternative community resisting the easy exploitation of others, to celebrate the inclusion of all God's children. Any attempt to critique wealth seems to be resisted by those who actually possess it. It is a curious fact of human nature that some of the most generous people actually have very little. Christians and Christian churches are often highly resistant to scrutiny of their bank balances. The Methodist principle of connexionalism (mutuality, interdependence, accountability) ought to help us navigate our generosity to our neighbours but it is not always easy to practice. Whilst we all know our material wealth will disappear, it remains very comforting to accumulate and justify its use largely for ourselves and those closest to us. How do we reorientate ourselves to the words: "store up for yourselves treasures in heaven"? What might these treasures consist of?

The passage is offering a stark contrast encouraging us to think of all that money cannot buy peace, love, truth, grace faithfulness, honesty and forgiveness. The words of Jesus recognise that what you truly value will reveal the contents of your treasures and therefore the location of your heart. This call to discipleship is not an easy path. It is worth remembering the words of Richard Rohr in Breathing under Water (SPCK, 2016): "God does not love us if we change, God loves us so that we can change".

To Ponder

  • If someone watched your life for a month:
    • What would they conclude were your priorities?
    • What would they learn about what you value?
    • What might you seek to change?
  • What is your treasure?
  • How generous are you with your material wealth?
  • If someone watched the life of the church you belong to for a month:
    • What would they conclude were its priorities?
    • What would they learn about what the church values?
    • What might need to change?

Bible notes author

Deacon Eunice Attwood

Eunice is a Methodist deacon. She is a tutor in Pastoral Theology at the Queen's Foundation in Birmingham, and a member of the Centre for Ministerial Formation since 2012.