This text is very challenging, especially for American Christians who have been advised to save not only for the proverbial “rainy day” but for a child’s “college fund” and for our retirement! In stark contrast to that practice Jesus advises, “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.”
In Jesus’ day there was no stock market in which to invest, so wealth was held in the form of food stuffs, fine clothing, and precious metals. The problem is that food stuffs were subject to worms and rodents and didn’t last indefinitely. Clothing in the first-century had to be spun, woven, dyed and hand-decorated or embroidered, so it might be among a person’s most valuable assets. Records up until the seventeenth century indicate items of clothing were often explicitly mentioned in a person’s will. Styles didn’t change frequently in the first-century, meaning hand-made clothing could be passed down from generation to generation. The threat to fine clothing is Jesus’ mention of moths.
Precious metals were another way of amassing financial assets. In that regard Jesus warns of the threat of both rust and thieves. Literally, Jesus warns that thieves may “dig-in and steal.” First-century Palestinian homes were made typically of mudbrick. Therefore a first-century burglar didn’t need to pick locks, disable security systems, or dynamite a home safe. Instead, the only tool needed to burglarize most homes was a pick or shovel.
Instead of amassing or storing wealth, Jesus encourages us to “store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.” How does one go about that? Jesus tells us explicitly in a parallel passage from Luke’s Gospel (12:32-33), where he uses that same phrase, “an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.” In that Lukan passage Jesus tells his hearers, “Sell your possessions and give alms” and that by so doing they will “make purses for themselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven.” So the way a believer amasses “treasure in heaven” is by earthly giving – by becoming a generous giver! Jesus advises the people to “give alms” – i.e. give to meet the needs of the poor, a practice that is commended throughout Scripture. It is only what we give away in this life that Jesus says we somehow keep for the life which is to come! Jesus then says the way we use our money is an indication of what we truly value – “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
A few verses later Jesus clarifies the stark choice before us: “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.” Since single ownership is the reality of being a slave, one person cannot serve two slave-owners. Jesus is saying in effect, “Either God is served with a single-minded obedience and devotion, or God is not served at all.” In our culture money and wealth are without question a false god many choose to worship. Jesus challenges us not to be among them!
Published on December 1, 2021