The Sermon, part 20: Two Choices

Read Matthew 6:19-24

“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 NLT)

twochoicesIn Rabbinic Judaism, which developed following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple in 70 CE, three tenants or pillars developed in the Jewish faith. It’s not that these “pillars” didn’t inherently exist within Judaism; rather, it is that it wasn’t until post-70 CE that they were so coined. The pillars represented the way one was to remain true to Judaism without the existence of the Temple, which was the center of the Jewish faith. Thus, the pillars replaced the Temple as the center of the Jewish faith and provided a way for people to live up to the Jewish covenant with God in the absence of a Temple.

The three pillars are Torah (including the study of the Torah), avodah shebalev (worship of the heart, aka prayer), and gimilut chasidim (acts of loving kindness). In other words, in order to remain a faithful Jew following the destruction of the Temple, one had to study the Torah and live faithfully by it, one had to worship God in their heart through regular and persistent prayer, and one had to perform acts of loving kindness in the world around them. By doing this, one was living in a way that was a holy and living sacrifice to God. Since there was no Temple to sacrifice in, this was the way the Rabbis taught to express faithful devotion to God. In fact, one could argue that if people lived perfectly by the three pillars, there would be little need to offer sacrifices in atonement of sin. Clearly, the three pillars are a noble and holy way to aspire to.

Matthew 6:19-7:12 parallels the third pillar of Judaism: acts of loving kindness. Today’s passage, Matthew 6:19-24, kicks off the section with another antithetical form. In essence, Jesus states that people either store up treasure on earth, or they store up treasure in heaven. People either hold onto material goods that will eventually be lost, or they will attain everlasting goods. People will either have a clear eye and live life in the light, or they will have a bad eye and live an utterly hopeless and confused life in the darkness. People will either serve “things” or they will serve God.

These antitheses serve to remind us that we are always facing two choices: the choice to do what is right and the choice to do what is wrong, the choice to follow God, or the choice to follow ourselves. Our God is a God of action and, thus, it makes sense that Jesus would lay out these antitheses centered on what we do versus what we do not do. It is important that we not only “believe” in Christ, but that we FOLLOW Christ and that we live our “beliefs” out in tangible ways.

Jesus doesn’t take time to explain what “heavenly treasure” is, nor does he go into detail on how to attain it. That is beyond Jesus’ point and he leaves it open for his disciples to respond in creative ways unique to their own situations. In other words, Jesus leaves room for interpretation. Where the wiggle room stops here: one either is actively working for God, being set apart for God, or one is not. Christ makes that very, very clear.

In our world we often look at the eyes as the window that lets light into brain, which then interprets that light, and shadows, into the objects we see. The ancients, Jesus included, had a different understanding of the eye. For the ancient world, the eye was a lamp that shined light on what we were seeing, thus illuminating objects so that they can be seen. Despite the two different understandings of the mechanics of the human eye, Jesus’ point is made clear by the fact that he makes it in the context of money and material gain. If the eye is seeking material gain, the person it belongs to will be misled and lost in a state of confusion and darkness. Their entire way of seeing the world will be perverted by their “eye’s” focus, which is really the focus of their heart.

This of course, is followed up with Jesus famous “mammon” verse, where Jesus states that one cannot serve two masters, that one cannot serve God and “mammon” or money. The fact is this, Jesus is reminding all of us that we have to make a choice, do we follow God or do we follow ourselves? Do we recognize Christ as our Lord, or do are we lords over our own lives? The choice is simple. If we choose Christ, then the Gospels (and all of Scripture in the light of the Gospels) points us to what our lives ought to become. If our lives are not matching up with the Gospel, that means we are not fully committal in serving Christ alone. Each of us falls into this reality, but Christ has gracefully given us the measure, along with the Holy Spirit, to begin to change.

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” (Edith Wharton)

Lord, you are the light. Open my eyes that I may see it, embrace it, and reflect it. Amen.

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