Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
We had a series of robberies at our house recently.
No, don't worry. We're fortunate, really. The thieves didn't hurt anyone. They didn't do any property damage, didn't break any windows or locks or anything. As a matter of fact, we were able to recover at least some of what was stolen. And really, what the thieves took didn't even have very much value.
Well, except to one of us.
I was first alerted to the presence of the thieves by the barking of my dog. He was standing at the fence in our yard, clearly upset about something. I went to check on him, and that's when I first saw the thief. Up in a tree. Mocking us.
At least, I think he was mocking us. I'm not sure, because I don't speak squirrel. He was chattering at us, though. And holding what he'd taken from the yard. One of Isaiah's bones – a soup bone he'd been chewing on. Suddenly, I understood why for several weeks I've been finding bones and rawhide chew toys all over the yard.
Isaiah was looking from me to the squirrel and back again, as if to say, “Are you seeing this? Do something!” Since I don't climb trees well enough to chase down a squirrel, I wasn't sure what to do. Fortunately, the squirrel did us the favor of dropping the bone for us. Or maybe he threw it at us, I don't know. In any case, it landed in the street, where it cracked open and allowed Isaiah to get to some marrow he would've missed otherwise. So all was well.
I just know, though, that the buck-toothed little thug will be back to pull off another job.
It's no fun to live knowing that one day someone or something is going to come along and take away what you have. I think it's realistic, though. All that stuff Jesus says about moths and rust and thieves breaking in – that's intended to do us a favor. It gives us perspective, keeps us from “storing up” treasures that can be taken away by decay or recession or disease or age, or, well, kleptomaniac rodents.
By the way, don't get hung up on that phrase “store up.” That's not necessarily to be read as a rule against having any money in your bank accounts or any food in the cupboard. He's not as concerned about the “storing up” as he is about the “treasures on earth.” “Storing up,” hoarding, that's just what you do with the things that really matter to you, and sometimes it's easiest to see what those things are when you take an honest look at what it is that you're stockpiling.
That's just one way to see what your treasures are, though. Another way is to ask yourself what you find yourself worrying about most. What's on your mind when you can't sleep? What do you talk about most with the people you really trust?
Or what do you spend your time doing, or pursuing? What motivates you, captures your attention, and takes the lion's share of your time, effort, and physical and emotional energy? What are the “urgent” things that you often find crowding out the “important” in your life? You may just find that those are really the things that are most important to you.
Often, Jesus says, we spend our time and energy chasing, storing, or worrying about earthly treasures. In calling them “earthly,” Jesus doesn't mean that they're necessarily bad or evil – just that they're transient. Temporary. They're enmeshed in the fallen, decaying, deteriorating realm of sin and death, and because they are they can't support the faith human beings often put in them. They aren't permanent, and one day something or someone will come along and take them away.
We tell ourselves that's not true. Human beings, after all, have come a long way since Jesus' day. We have mothballs, WD-40, and security systems, after all; moth and rust don't worry us at all, and our insurance company will replace what thieves might steal. But ask the widow at the funeral home, or the former business owner staring at the boarded-up windows of what used to be his shop, or the once-healthy young man wasting away in a hospital. Ask them about permanence.
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Thats just the way we're made, and that's why we have to be careful about what we value. If our greatest treasures are the things that are passing away, then we'll always be of this passing-away world, always chasing after shadows and filling our growling bellies with sawdust. But if we treasure the things of heaven, the things that God treasures, then what we store up will be the things that last, and the things that matter.
So we live in faith. We give of ourselves in service to others. We seek after personal holiness, and we show grace to the people around us, and we push our culture in the directions of justice and peace. We forgive those who harm us, and we love our neighbor as ourselves, and we love God with everything we have and are. And we trust in his faithfulness, and believe that he will give us whatever of those earthly treasures that we need.
Isaiah's already forgotten about the squirrel, probably. And even if the next time he doesn't get his bone back, he won't dwell on it, if for no other reason than that I'll feel sorry for him and give him another one. An even better one, still full of marrow. He trusts me, you see. And that's a pretty good way to live when you can't be sure that your stuff won't be taken from you. You trust the one who always has stuff to give. And you trust that what he gives is better than any of the hard, dry treasures that you've lost.
Believe in your God. Believe that in Jesus he's thrown open his treasure house to you. And make sure your heart is set on the better, enduring treasures he's ready to give you.
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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version TNIV (r), Copyright (c) 2005 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.