For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19).
The old word for it is “avarice.”
We know it best as greed. Sometime near the fourth century a list was developed that identified the most morally threatening sins. Numbering seven, they came to be called the “seven deadly sins.”
That avarice, or greed, made the list should hardly surprise us. We are infected with a bacterial greed. We learned some hard lessons years ago when the economy went south in 2008. Some of you will remember the stories well: Bernie Madoff and Goldman Sachs, executive bonuses, congressional hearings, government bailouts. Economists analyze, lawmakers criticize, and the accused rationalize. Yes, greed is alive and well among us.
But there is a greater and more insidious threat posed by greed than the threat of economic meltdown. The danger for many of us is that we’ll begin to associate greed with the very rich. This kind of thinking is dangerous because it assumes that greed is all about money. This kind of thinking says that the greedy are those who already have much and want even more. It assumes a kind of immunity for “average” people and “low income” people.
Greed, however, has very little to do with money. The problem goes much deeper.
When we listen to the words of Jesus we are forced to recognize that the real problem is a heart problem. For most people greed is not about money. It is about fear. And everyone, regardless of their income, knows about fear.
Fear explains both our tendency to clutch what we have, and our reluctance to be generous givers. And there’s nothing new about this.
Satisfied with ‘Daily Bread’
In Egypt the work was hard, but the food was abundant. The taskmasters were brutal, but at the end of the day the slaves knew where home was, and they knew when it was time to eat. At least that’s how they remembered it.
Now, having walked far into the desert, the conditions back in Egypt looked better than ever. Where would food come from in this desolate place? Why had Moses led them out there to die? The people complained. Moses prayed. God heard both the complaining and the praying and answered with bread from heaven. It covered the ground, flake like, every morning.
Only one thing: they were to take enough only for one day. If the people tried to store away an extra day’s supply of bread, it would rot. Moses explained all of this – but as is so often the case, there were those who refused to listen. At night they couldn’t sleep for worrying, afraid that when morning light came the ground would be bare and their children would be hungry.
They took more, more than they needed, and they did so because they were afraid. Lack of trust is at the heart of greed. (Exodus 16:16-20).
Jesus’ words about treasure in heaven are placed between his instruction to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11) and his counsel that “each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). What Jesus says about treasure is a commentary on what it means to live every day trusting God. It is an invitation to a life at rest in the faithful care of God. We can say with the Psalmist, “I have been young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).
Don’t place the weight of your life on something that can decay or be stolen. Place your life in God’s hands. Trust God to give what you need.
Why do you think our treasures make it hard for us to learn a life of trust?
In uncertain times, O God, we strive for certainty and we try to secure the future the best way we know how. So often we do this with material things: we increase our possessions and we save what we acquire. Grant us the gift of a trusting heart that we might live boldly – ready to give, ready to risk, knowing that our times are in your hand. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.