Last week we talked about the law and how it is meant to be understood. The main point Jesus was making was that it’s less important what you do and more important who you are. He urged us to look inwardly and be concerned with our interior condition which is the cause of all our actions.
It is not simply enough to restrain ourselves from committing acts of violence – we need to address the fact that we have anger in our hearts at all. The condition of the human heart is the theme of this next portion of his teaching as well. Today we are going to look at pride and how it can taint what looks like good deeds from the outside. If our hearts are proud then our religious devotion is meaningless and Jesus makes this very clear.
When we pray, if we only pray in church on Sundays but do not have a personal prayer life then we are really talking to each other and not to God. If we make a show of our religious devotion on Sunday mornings for everyone else to see but do not pray in the quiet moments when we are alone, then we are not truly believing in God but instead are making a pageantry of our worship, a show which makes us stars in front of others.
In the first part of this chapter (Matthew 6) Jesus is telling us about social treasures. The treasures of status and image, the treasures of praise and respect. He warns us to shy away from these treasures and instead store up treasures in Heaven. Jesus wants us to be more concerned with what God thinks than what people think. If we make a big show of giving to the needy and sound trumpets and make a parade, if we call in the media to take our pictures and write articles in the paper, if we go on missions to poor countries and then take selfies with the starving children and post them on Facebook – then we are serving ourselves and not God.
Jesus also talks about money in this section of his sermon, another earthly treasure like reputation and prestige. He warns us that money is a treasure of this world which can be stolen and can rot away. But in contrast the treasures of Heaven are eternal, they cannot be stolen and they never expire. The issues of social status and prestige mentioned immediately before this fall into that category as well. Our social status is an earthly treasure, it can be taken from us and we can never bring it with us when we leave this world. Jesus then goes on to say something that takes a little while to process. After describing the necessity of not striving for power and wealth he gives us a little piece about light and about our eyes. He said:
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.
Now, he’s obviously speaking metaphorically here. The eye is what we set our sights on, it is what we look at, it is that which captures our attention. He is saying that if we set our eyes on earthly treasures our whole being will be filled with darkness but if we set our eyes on heavenly treasures then our whole being will be filled with light. And so, where our treasure is there our hearts are also.
He goes on to say that we cannot serve two masters, we cannot serve both God and money. And that is a really important message today just as much as it was then. Too often in this life we serve money instead of making money serve us. But we cannot serve both God and money. Most modern translations use the word money here, but when Matthew wrote his gospel in Greek he used the word mammon, which is actually an Aramaic word, the language Jesus spoke. So why didn’t Matthew translate mammon? Why did he choose to leave it in another language?
There is much debate about this but there is a long history in Christianity, and in other ancient religions of the time, to personify mammon as a god of wealth. If this is so, Jesus is not only talking about money as a physical thing which can corrupt us, but a false god which many worship. This would have struck a chord in the hearts of the Jews who were hearing this because worshiping an idol is a grave sin everyone knew about and understood. I do believe Jesus is warning us not to worship the false god of material possessions as well as the false god of praise and honour. Jesus is asking a very difficult question, one that was hard to hear then and is hard to hear today. What do we worship?
Now, the word worship brings up all sorts of feelings and opinions in people of all religions and even atheists. It’s hard not to have an opinion about worship in some form or another. But how often do we take the time to define it? How many of us actually know what it means to worship? The word worship itself has the same root as the words worthy and worth. To worship something is to ascribe value to it, to declare it as being an object of worth, and so we worship it.
Up until the last few decades it was common to use it in many non religious ways. You might still here some more formal or old fashioned people refer to a judge as “your worship”. This doesn’t mean the judge is a god it means the judge is a worthy person to make difficult decisions. So something we worship is something we value and something we trust. That’s why the ancient Israelites were so against idol worship, because they didn’t want to put their trust in a statue made of wood or gold. So here, Jesus is drawing a parallel between worshiping an idol and worshiping money.
He says you cannot put your trust in the money you make or the position you hold in society because these things can be stolen from you and are destined to fade into the dust of history. You should serve only one master, you should value one thing above all others – and that is God. And so this pressing question is equally important today. You need to stop and ask yourself what you worship, what you value, where you put your trust.
What do you treasure? What do you love? What master do you serve? Do you worship money? Do you worship social status and prestige? Do you worship your favourite hockey team? Or perhaps your country’s flag? Do you worship yourself or do you worship God?
One way to answer these questions is to take a good hard critical look at how you live your life. What do you have your eyes set on, what do you invest your time in? Jesus talks about worrying immediately after all this, he tells us not to worry about what we will eat or what we will wear but to trust in God who always provides. Where do you put your trust? What do you worry about?
If you put your trust in your RRSPs or your savings account then your trust is misplaced because this life is fleeting and you can’t take those things with you. Jesus tells us instead to store up treasures in Heaven – but what does that mean, to store up treasures in Heaven? How do we even do that?
Well, Jesus has given us some great examples so far in this sermon. A couple weeks ago we talked about how we need to be merciful peace makers who hunger and thirst for righteousness, how we need to be meek and poor in spirit, how we need to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Last week we talked about how we need to make sure we have healthy and fruitful interior lives, so that we do not lust after other people or carry anger in our hearts. We talked about how we have to interact with our own tradition and respect it while also being critical of it.
This week we started off with some very practical advice about doing acts of charity and praying and this advice which Jesus gave us is both a test to see where our heart lie and also a practical method to build up treasures in Heaven. The next time you give to someone in need, don’t tell a single soul. Not your neighbour, not your children, not even your spouse. Give it a try. Go out and be generous to someone and don’t tell a single soul what you’ve done. And watch yourself as the days go by.
Are you tempted to tell someone? Why do you want to tell someone? Is it because you value the opinions of those around you more than the opinion of God? Is it because you really want the recognition and flattery that would come with it? Are you worshiping your own self image? Are you worshiping the way other people see you? Try the same thing when you pray.
Try taking up a daily practice of prayer, if you don’t already do that, and don’t tell a soul what you’re doing. If you pray in church with everyone else but your are uncomfortable praying by yourself try to figure out why. Do you not actually believe God is listening? Do you not actually have faith in prayer? When times get rough do you put all your trust in your own efforts or do you put your trust in God? Are you worshiping yourself or your father in Heaven?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s bad to try and solve your problems or even to be seen giving and praying. After all Jesus started this sermon by saying you are the light of world, no one lights a lamp and hides it under a basket, he even made a point of saying that others need to see your good deeds so that they will praise God through what you do – but that’s the key, they need to be praising God, not you.
Let your deeds be seen but go out of your way to avoid the credit. The light which we are meant to let shine is the light of our good deeds and not the light of our egos. It is essential that when people see the good works we do that they are led to praise God and not us. The weight of praise is too much for any soul to bear.
Praise and adoration are heavy burdens you should not carry yourself but should give up to God. If you are not careful, the good deeds you do, the acts of charity you perform, the prayers you make, even the religious devotion you have, will become twisted into sources of pride and there is nothing more opposed to holiness than pride.
So hide, dear sisters and brothers, hide from the pride of recognition, do not even let your left hand know that your right hand is giving, lest you begin to praise yourself instead of God. For God searches our hearts and our minds and knows what is done in secret. Both Jesus and the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:5-10) tell us that God rewards those whose hearts are pure but that reward will not come in the form of riches or honour, it will come in the form of peace and love for all creation.
The reward given for a pure heart is love – and a pure heart knows there is no greater reward. So if you are the least bit tempted to show your light to the world you should instead hide it in the closet and only when you have no desire to be praised by others should you let your light shine. Because where your treasure is your heart is also and if you treasure money and prestige then your heart is in darkness and you are not really shining at all.
Read the next sermon in this series by clicking here
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