Saturday, September 26, 2009

No man can serve two masters


‘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.

- Matthew 6:19-24

The selection from our daily reading today comes right after Jesus' teachings about alms, prayer and fasting "in secret." Jesus has taught, in this section of the Sermon on the Mount, that our practices in the personal worship of the Father should take place in ways that are hidden, not for show to others. When it is image before others that we cultivate through our spiritual practices, our sole reward is simply image. Cultivating a relationship to God the Father is done "in secret," and "your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."

In today's reading, Jesus elaborates on this "hidden" relationship and its nature. He has been emphasizing the need for choice. There is no blurring of lines in this teaching: the words in these passages emphasize that we make a clear-cut choice between relationship with "the world" or with God. One is for image and the praise of men, the other a spiritual reality of relationship with the Father. Now this extends to the way that we look at material possessions, and where our heart is:

‘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.

We have hidden treasure in this "hidden relationship." There are values we build up that are within us, within that relationship to God the Father which we cultivate through our personal spiritual practices. Most importantly, Jesus indicates here that the choice we make for what we work toward determines who we are in our hearts. What is most precious to us? What is it we work toward? Again, there is choice, there is intent. Where our treasure is, that's where our heart is. One follows the other automatically. This is a teaching for wise choices of what and how we will worship (what is our treasure?), for that determines where and who we are, where our hearts are.

‘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!

My study bible says that Jesus uses physical imagery to make a vivid impression, just as in an earlier part of this Sermon in which he spoke of casting out body parts that offend us. The eye, I read, is synonymous with the mind. In Greek this word for "mind" is nous - the spiritual eye of the soul. We are to cultivate our spiritual eye. If we cannot see these hidden treasures, if we fail to perceive them or cultivate the means whereby we understand and perceive them, then our lives are darkened. There is so much that we cannot see. Prayer, alms-giving and fasting "in secret" help us to perceive of the reality of this hidden kingdom, of the things that are worth pursuing. If we do not cultivate spiritual eyes we will fail to understand that which is of value, what is worth pursuing.

‘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.

A note in my study bible reads, "As slaves serving two masters, people attempt to maintain an attachment both to earthly and to heavenly things. But this is impossible, for both demand full allegiance. Jesus calls mammon a master, not because it is by nature evil, but because of the absolute and wretched servility it exacts."

Clearly, in this last verse, Jesus sets out a line of demarcation for us - an absolute separation between what we choose to value in terms of what is most precious to us. We must make choices. We seek the hidden kingdom and its hidden treasure "in secret" - or we seek image, which includes "the praise of men" and material treasure as our fondest wish (which so often goes with image before others and the "praise of men"). We must make a choice; no words could be more clear than those here. This does not mean that we will not have material wealth (other passages through the gospels indicate that there were wealthy individuals who were believers). What it means is that we must set our hearts straight on just exactly what we put first in life, what is our greatest treasure and what we will pursue. We must choose one from the other - both will not do. Each is such that it commands fully our devotion. But our material state should stem from our dedication to this hidden treasure. For Jesus, that meant a life of poverty and homelessness and death on a cross. For others, it did not. But here, His words indicate that we must make a clear choice to serve one or the other.