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SOTM #13: Getting your “Eye” checked

August 30, 2010

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:19-24 NKJV)

An interesting segment of Jesus’ SOTM, containing three short proverb-type teachings. But it seems strange that these three would be placed together: the teaching in the middle doesn’t seem to resemble the ones before or after it. Or does it? What was Matthew doing here?

The first proverb concerns “treasure”, and compares treasure “on earth” with treasure “in heaven.” Tom Wright explains that we shouldn’t see this instruction as being for some other life, but instead connected to this one.”‘Heaven’ here is where God is right now, and where, if you learn to love and serve God right now, you will have treasure in the present, not just in the future” (Wright, Matthew for Everyone: Part 1, p.63).

The second proverb seems, at first glance, like a puzzle piece in the wrong place. Why was a story about an “eye” placed here? It seems that this story contains some ancient Jewish figures of speech about a “good eye” and an “evil eye”-though this flavor doesn’t always seem to come through into English translations. From what I understand (via teachers like Lois Tverberg & Ray Vander Laan) these figures of speech meant the following:

  • a good eye = to be generous
  • an evil eye = to be greedy (stingy)

You can also find these figures of speech in other places in scripture (Proverbs 22:9; Proverbs 28:22; Matthew 20:15). Looking at this story in context then, it makes sense that a proverb about an “eye” is about generosity, and certainly fits with the one before and after it (both about treasure/wealth). Charles Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol, seems to illustrate this principle beautifully. In the story we observe the character Ebenezer Scrooge, the epitome of one with an “evil eye”, transform into a shining example of one with a “good eye”. On a side note, the Muppet version is my all time favorite…

The third proverb seems to describe the personification/deification of wealth, a reality that is possible if our priorities are out of whack. This often happens in US culture: listen to how “the Market” is described sometimes. There is a warning here: be careful about which master we serve. Will it be God, or the deification of wealth?

It has been interesting to notice just how often economics play a role in the SOTM. There’s the announcement at the beginning declaring all the “nobodies” of the world “blessed.” We are to “give alms” to the poor (in secret, not for show). We are encouraged to forgive debts (also sins or tresspasses, I know; But there is economic language used here). Similarly, I found this piece by Gary Moore in Christianity Today to be a fascinating look at economics, business, and investing. It also connected with me on the economic elements I’ve been noticing within the SOTM. Currently in the US there are strong voices emphasizing Libertarian/Individualistic economics (there was a big rally recently that you may have heard of…). Personally I have some concerns about Libertarianism, though in no way do I feel I completely understand this position-so allow me a little grace. My concerns center on what this kind of viewpoint seems to eventually lead to if played out to its end (highly separate individualism?). To me this view contrasts strongly with the community emphasis I see in the scriptures (Jubilee; Love of neighbor, widow, orphan, alien; Plural language throughout much of scripture). I am so woefully under-educated when it comes to economics that I rarely feel able to contribute in serious conversations about them. However, the author was able to communicate some important economic principles in ways which made sense and, frankly, seemed a whole heck of a lot more honest than what I hear from the financial “gurus” on television and in politics. Moore writes,

Socially responsible investing has long looked inside our mutual, pension, and endowment funds to ensure our treasures are where our mouths are and where our hearts should be. Community development banking looks inside our banks to see if our deposits are funding affordable housing or speculation, job creation or consumer spending. And micro-enterprise lending, fair trade, and social entrepreneurship look inside developing nations to see if our loans, purchases, and investments are honoring God by enriching our neighbors, particularly the poor. The paradox is that by looking deeper, we might be as likely to enrich ourselves, as academic studies and anecdotal evidence suggest.

Interesting. A socially conscious practice of economics and business. Sounds pretty “Biblical” to me. And I must also give a shout-out here to the good folks at Everence who continue to help me see the importance of generosity, stewardship, and how our economic practices are an important way to love God and love others.

How might this passage in Matthew 6 help us to get our “eye” checked?

  1. August 31, 2010 3:19 am

    Chris, Thanks. Yes, Money can indeed be the real god, even while God’s name is invoked, even as the Pharisees did, who scripture says loved money. And even if I don’t love money by grace only, I can easily and unwittingly fall prey to trusting in material wealth rather than on God, something Jesus directly addresses in this sermon as well.

  2. August 31, 2010 5:30 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts, Ted. It continues to amaze me how the SOTM helps to interpret itself: When we find ourselves trusting material wealth (which I have fallen prey to as well) or storing up treasure (whatever they may be), one can go back and look at the prayer-“Give us today daily bread”, finding both challenge and comfort. Constant reminders of trust, but also of God’s presence.

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