Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust doth decay, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth decay and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
The beast that is about to devour your lair could be either one of two things: A) The ravages of time and decay on earthly wealth; or B) The ravages of pride and lust on a God-seeking heart.
Let me start with the material. I’m quite sure that Christ is telling us to distribute our wealth to the poor. There’s no way around it. And this is not politics; it is spiritual. (The political end of it questions who distributes whose wealth to whom. For instance, the government distributes a merchant’s profits to those in a politically protected class… but this is not a political blog. ) In Christianity, we are ordered to give our riches to the poor, lest they become unrighteous. The Blessed Theophylact wrote, “Jesus names as unrighteous mammon (Luke 16) that wealth which we have in our possession; if it were righteous wealth, we would no longer have it. But now, since we still have it, it is abundantly clear that we kept for ourselves and did not distribute it to the poor, and thus it is unrighteous.”
Moving closer towards the spiritual, materials things are not to be coveted because people who covet not the things of God won’t do squat to seek Him. Why? Because they are too filled with pride to care for God. Blessed Theophylact wrote in his Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to Luke, “For men possess more than they need because of vainglory.” Therefore, we are not only to reject horded wealth, but ostentation as well. “For nothing so trains men to be fond of riches, as the fondness for glory,” wrote St. John Chrysostom. “This, for instance, is why men devise those herds of slaves, and that swarm of eunuchs, and their horses with trappings of gold, and their silver tables, and all the rest of it, yet more ridiculous; not to satisfy any wants, nor to enjoy any pleasure, but that they may make a show before the multitude.”
And glory, like money, doesn’t last. St. John Cassian wrote, “For whenever we do anything with a view to human glory we know that we are, as the Lord says, laying up for ourselves treasure on earth, and that consequently being as it were hidden in the ground and buried in the earth it must be destroyed by sundry demons or consumed by the biting rust of vain glory, or devoured by the moths of pride so as to contribute nothing to the use and profits of the man who has hidden it.” Just like a pension tied up in a pre-bubble mutual fund, a surge of egomania before a fall both have expiration dates and are bound to lead their carriers to profound disappointment.
The most important aspect of one’s treasure is the internal riches of the heart. The “treasures in heaven,” as the Lord describes, lie hidden within us, in the quietness of a God-seeking heart. Earthly wealth was never intended to be our possession, but our charge. The Blessed Theophylact reminds, “we were born naked and brought nothing into the world.” The true wealth that we can call our own is of an entirely spiritual nature. “The money and possesions of man who has been created in the image of God are indeed another’s and alient to man because neither money nor possessions resemble man. But the enjoyment of divine things and communion with God — these are our own.“
St. John Cassian also wrote of the need for a man to maintain the divine wealth of the heart, almost similarly to the need for today’s entrepreneur to protect his own lair. “We should then constantly search all the inner chambers of our hearts, and trace out the footsteps of whatever enters into them with the closest investigation lest haply some beast, if I may say so, relating to the understanding, either lion or dragon, passing through has furtively left the dangerous marks of his track, which will show to others the way of access into the secret recesses of the heart, owing to a carelessness about our thoughts. And so daily and hourly turning up the ground of our heart with the gospel plough, i.e., the constant recollection of the Lord’s cross, we shall manage to stamp out or extirpate from our hearts the lairs of noxious beasts and the lurking places of poisonous serpents.”
Now we must determine where our heart is at. Because it seems the heart needs to be fully lodged in heaven else our riches may be quite corrupt. Blessed Augustine wrote, “If, therefore, the heart be on earth, i.e. if one perform anything with a heart bent on obtaining earthly advantage, how will that heart be clean which wallows on earth? But if it be in heaven, it will be clean, because whatever things are heavenly are clean. For anything becomes polluted when it is mixed with a nature that is inferior, although not polluted of its kind; for gold is polluted even by pure silver, if it be mixed with it: so also our mind becomes polluted by the desire after earthly things, although the earth itself be pure of its kind and order. But we would not understand heaven in this passage as anything corporeal, because everything corporeal is to be reckoned as earth. For he who lays up treasure for himself in heaven ought to despise the whole world.” Thus, if I am seeking God, but somewhere deep within I am also going through the motions of religiosity with mixed motives (i.e., I am seeking better social standing, I am trying to get enriched through my pastorate, or I am going to church because I have a crush on one of the girls who hangs out in the back), the dragons of decay have me. I am corrupted and my riches will be corrupted. The hermetic seal has been broken and the ointment may not work.
But this leads us directly to the next verse, “The eye is the light of the body…” and before we jump there I would like to go about hunting dragons, that my share of the spoil may be not spoiled.