A long time ago, our friend Augustine talked about disordered loves. His contention was things tend to be good in and of themselves but the way we often use those good things is problematic. God created these things, after all – and he called them very good – but these good things were created within an order and with purpose. God’s good creation was meant to work a certain way. So our problem, Augustine says, is that we get our loves out of order. We neglect some things while trying to use other things to do more than they were ever meant to do.
I think there’s a lot of truth to what Augustine is laying on us here. I think about Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:1-21. He bookends this teaching with dual warnings about being careful where we look for our treasures and rewards. Don’t give or pray or fast to impress people. (This was a culture, after all, where giving, praying, and fasting carried major social capital.) If that’s where we’re placing our worth and identity we’ll get our reward, but be careful: those neighbors we’ve worked so hard to impress with our shows of generosity, pious prayers, and righteous displays of fasting simply cannot bear the weight our bid for approval, worth, and meaning places on them. Investing ourselves in such storehouses inevitably leads to loss because, “moth and rust consume” and “thieves break in and steal.”
Augustine reminds us it’s not that our neighbors are bad – or even that we should avoid their approval. Rather, when we make the approval and validation of our neighbors the locus of our worth and identity, the place where we store our treasures, we’ve gotten things out of order. We look for something from our neighbors they cannot possibly deliver in any meaningful way. Only God can. It is only in rooting who we are in God’s estimation of us that we can hope to find lasting worth and meaning and identity. This is “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 Matthew 6:21, Jesus ends by reminding us our hearts will follow our treasures. Another way of saying that is this: You will spend your life chasing the treasure you seek. More, other friends as diverse as Aristotle, Aquinas, and James KA Smith remind us that it is in this chase that we become who we are. The chase forms us, for good or ill.
What am I seeking? That’s the question we’ve been assigned to ponder and I spend a lot of time doing that. I too often recognize the ways I chase the wrong sorts of treasure – when I place too much stock in whether or not my friends and neighbors think I’m funny or smart or successful or good. I’ve had to deal with all the ways I’ve hitched my identity to being a vocational minister, and I’ve had to figure out what I’m worth now that I’m not that anymore. More, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that pursuing those treasures has often made me a more selfish person because it’s hard to both love and use my neighbors to satisfy my own neurotic needs. The only path forward I’ve discovered is to begin putting those loves back in order. This is, after all, the way Jesus showed us.
What do I seek? It has to be God. I stink at the pursuit. I struggle with it. I often get sidetracked and turned around. But, nothing else will do. Nothing else can.
Rob Sparks is a Jesus follower, a father and husband, a nerd, and a paper pusher. He worships and serves with the Fernvale Church of Christ in Middle Tennessee and occasionally blogs at robrsparks.wordpress.com
Chapter 13 of Matthew is a unique chapter in that it contains a collection of 7 parables. Jesus begins each of these parables with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”. I’ve mentioned previously that the core message of Jesus ministry, is that “the kingdom of heaven has drawn near“. In this pivotal series of parables Jesus speaks to the crowds and challenges them to make a decision. Are you in? Or out? Even the use of parables is intended to weed out the serious followers from those seeking a sideshow. (13:11-17)
- Parable of the Soils (2-9, 18-23) – Remember Jesus is speaking to the crowds, not his disciples. When the the curious crowds hear this parable, they’re challenged to answer the question, “What type of soil am I?“
- Parable of the Weeds (24-30, 36-43) – According to v38 the field represents the world, not the church. Again, his audience needs to consider, “Am I wheat or weed?” The kingdom of heaven exists in the world, not separate from it. In many ways wheat and weeds look the same. “Which am I?”
- Parable of the Mustard Seed (31-32) – For those expecting the Messiah to arrive with a great army and fireworks, Jesus has some somber news. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.” Tiny. It will one day be great, but that’s not how it arrives. “Can you accept this reality?” Will you stick around to be a bird living in the branches of the kingdom?
- Parable of the Yeast (33) – Similar to the Parable of the Mustard Seed. The idea of the kingdom (yeast) working “into all things”, is an interesting one. We can see today how this applies both individually, and globally. But it all began in little ole Galilee 2000 years ago.
- Parable of the Hidden Treasure (44) (see below)
- Parable of the Pearl (45-46) – Jesus makes a clear point in these two brief parables. The kingdom of heaven is worth the price. When you recognize the value of the kingdom, you’ll give up everything for it. The parables contain an implicit question, “Are you ready to be my disciples?” Whether you stumble across the truth of God’s kingdom, or whether you’ve been searching for it, “How much are you willing to give up to enter the kingdom of heaven?“
- Parable of the Net (47-52) – The kingdom of heaven is like a fishing net. We might think that the kingdom of heaven would be 100% pure, but that’s not the case. However, it’s not our job to sort out the fish, or the weeds. That’s a task reserved for the return of Christ. In the meantime, we keep living by kingdom principles, and we keep sharing the Good News. They’re our responsibilities. Determining one’s eternal destiny is Jesus’ job. This parable contains the warning, “How will you be judged at the end of the age?“
Yes, this is a confrontational discourse. This chapter represents a turning point in Jesus ministry. People, it’s decision time. Jesus is no longer a mere curiosity and wonder worker… if he ever was. Jesus is now a walking question mark. His presence and his message challenge us all to make a series of decisions. This cut and dried message may sit uncomfortably with a society that prefers ambiguity and compromise over truth claims and dogmatism. But I can’t change the message. It’s always DECISION TIME.
- Do you agree that “our society prefers ambiguity and compromise…”? How would you demonstrate your answer?
- Is your understanding of the Parable of the Soils changed by considering the audience? Do you agree with my summary?
- The Parable of the Weeds and the Parable of the Net both teach the church not to function as eternal judge. Why do you think so many churches have struggled to limit themselves in this area?