February 6, 2007
Meditation Commentary on Matthew 6:19-21
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
The Christian life is not easy. Jesus, who came to save the world from sin, never downplays or excuses that sin, but rather explains that our sin goes far deeper inside us than we had ever realized. He tells us he did not come to abolish the Law or to remove the commandments; and not only that, he goes on to say, the Law is just the beginning! If you want to enter the kingdom, you must be more righteous than even the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20), who follow the Law so scrupulously. You must obey not simply the letter, but the spirit and principle behind the letter. Don’t just refrain from murder; you also must not even insult or despise your brother. Don’t just remain literally faithful to your wife; keep your heart pure and refuse to even look on another woman. Don’t just carefully fulfill your oaths; you must not swear at all. Don’t take revenge on those who do evil to you; but instead forgive, let go and give. Don’t just love those who love you and hate those who hate you; pour out love on friends and enemies alike, as God pours sunlight and rain on both the good and the evil. (Matthew 6:21-37.) It isn’t only the external conformity that matters, Jesus is telling us, but on the contrary it is from the inside, from your heart of hearts, that true righteousness springs. Righteousness, and therefore admission into the Kingdom of Heaven, requires not merely meticulous obedience and right living, it requires a pure and undefiled heart. To be truly holy you must not merely be good, you must be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
Furthermore, that goodness is not to be flaunted. Don’t display your generosity and charity, showing everyone how openhanded and considerate you are. Don’t pray loudly on the street corners, letting all men admire you for your piety and eloquence. Don’t disfigure yourself when you fast, so that everyone knows how you are suffering. All these things, Jesus tells us, give their reward here and now, in the form of exaltation before men. But true riches lie elsewhere. God sees what is done in secret, so bring your prayers before him and him only in the seclusion of your closet; don’t let even your left hand know what your right is doing when you do works of charity; behave no differently when you are fasting than when you are not. In other words, be righteous not so that you may win fame and adulation, but because God has called you, and has called you to be like him. Flaunting your “piety” on earth can grant you some earthly treasure: esteem and glory in the eyes of men. But time and dust make a mockery of all men’s accomplishments, and there is only one treasure that lasts: that which is laid up in heaven, the righteousness born of a relationship of love with the Creator of the universe.