“Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it is never enough.” (Janwillem van de Wetering)
The following passage contrasts the pursuit of material wealth to that of heavenly riches. Modern wealth or treasure often means possessing “money” or valuables containing precious metals. So many English translations since William Tyndale use “rust” to translate a Greek word which can also mean: “eating” or “consuming.” Following this sense, the word translated “money” in verse 25 is better understood as more broadly as material wealth.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys 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 bad, 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 either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:19-25)
Wealth to the audience who heard the Sermon on the Mount would have more likely been excess provisions of food and resources like cloth. So vermin or insects that would get into your stored grain and materials could destroy or ruin your treasure. Thieves could also steal it from you. But earthly treasures can also be things that bring an individual power, prestige or wealth. So there is a broad range of things that we can covet or “store” up that would qualify as earthly treasure.
And here lies the first bombshell of the passage: whatever you treasure has your heart.
The next two verses, 6:22-23, can be difficult to understand. The metaphor of the eye being the lamp to our body doesn’t speak clearly to a modern audience. Craig Blomberg, suggests that it is a restatement of the previous paragraph. So the meaning is that the way people handle their finances affects every part of their lives:
Just as the “heart” (v. 21) forms the center of one’s affections and commitments, the “eyes” enable the whole person to see. Good and bad eyes probably parallel a good and bad heart and thus refer, respectively, to storing up treasures in heaven versus storing them up on earth.
I think that Jesus is extending his statement about treasure, rather than just restating it. In his time, as today, it would likely have been understood that extreme examples of greed were ungodly. But there is nothing morally wrong with trying to improve your financial status, is there? So saying: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”, could have been readily affirmed—but not fully understood. His hearers, then and now, could have missed a crucial point.
So Jesus extends and clarifies his statement about treasure by using another metaphor, how the eye is the lamp of the body; the eye lets in light. Here, as Leon Morris observed, there is a spiritual parallel with Jesus speaking of the eye as the source of light to the body. So, if you have “good,” healthy eyes, your body has light. If your eye is not healthy, you will be in darkness. So far Jesus has described the one half of the metaphor that everyone knows—blind people are in darkness. The second half of the metaphor now equates “light” entering a person as spiritual or moral “darkness,” and then declared “how great is the darkness” if the “light” that enters you is “darkness!”
It asks the question, “What do you have your eye on?” If your eye is on some kind of treasure, that is where your heart is. If your eye is on the things of God, then your body is full of the light of God. If your eye is on other things, you have let “darkness” in—and how great is that darkness! So, no one can serve two masters; you cannot serve God and earthly treasure in any form.
Twelve Step recovery is steeped in the knowledge that pursuing earthly treasures leads to destruction. In the “Step Seven” essay in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill W. noted how alcoholics for thousands of years have been demanding more than their share of security, prestige—the things of material achievement or earthly treasure. Success meant dreaming of more; frustration or failure meant drinking for oblivion. “Never was there enough of what we thought we wanted.” Never was there “thought of making honesty, tolerance, and true love of man and God the daily basis of living.”
As long as individuals attempted to live by their own strength and intelligence, a working faith was impossible. “This was true even when we believed that God existed.” Here, the Twelve Stepper and the follower of Christ stand in agreement: “We could actually have earnest religious beliefs which remained barren because we were still trying to play God ourselves.” As long as we place self-reliance first, a genuine reliance on God was impossible. “That basic idea of all humility, a desire to seek and do God’s will, was missing.” Whatever you treasure has your heart.
This series is dedicated to the memory of Audrey Conn, whose questions reminded me of my intention in seminary to look at the various ways the Sermon on the Mount applies to Alcoholics Anonymous and recovery. If you’re interested in more, look under the category link “Sermon on the Mount.”