Mastering Materialism (Mat. 6:19-34)

Publié le 31 janvier 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon by Pastor Samuel Niblack

We are currently studying the famous Sermon on the Mount, which is sort of like a « King’s Manifesto » which sets out the values of Jesus’ kingdom and that describes the behavior that is expected of its citizens.

Up to now, Jesus has been very critical of religion and religiosity. Someone listening to him might say, « Hey ! Jesus is even more anticlerical than the average Frenchman! Go ahead, Jesus, down with religion! » 

But Jesus is not finished overturning typical world values…

In the text here he addresses our relationship to material goods—money for instance, but not only that. What Jesus is talking about here is everything we see on a magazine stand and that we are passionate about: it could be food, health, beauty, fashion, cars, weight training, sports, gadgets, etc.  Materialism is that vision of the world that says: my well-being, my security, my future is in the things I see, the things I own, the things of this life.

According to Jesus, there is a great difference between the believer and the unbeliever (also called the « pagans or the gentiles »): v32, « all these things the pagans seek, » but you « seek first the kingdom of God. » That doesn’t mean that his followers don’t need food, clothing or, money, but the difference is that for the unbeliever, his whole vision is limited to these things, he seeks only these things.

Yet materialism is the dominant belief of our time in the Western world. « Materialism works very well! What with technology, medicine, science, money, we no longer need a divine explanation, a heavenly, illusory hope. We have a concrete, scientific, medical, or financial solution to all our problems! »

But the Sermon on the Mount offers us a pertinent answer to that. Jesus reminds us here that a perverse effect of materialism is worry and anxiety. Our time shows this well. The more our society becomes materialistic, the more anxious and worried it also becomes. The poet Auden called our age « The age of anxiety. » We are the pros of anxiety, stress, therapists and anxiety-provokers. 

Jesus invites us to look at the world differently. We are going to dig into the reasons that Jesus gives for not adopting this purely materialistic vision. What is better:

1. to store up a perishable treasure or to store up a permanent treasure?

2. to have a clear vision or to have a blurred vision?

3. to serve a cruel Master or to serve a benefactor Master?

4. to live in anxiety or to live with trust?

  1. Storing up a perishable or a permanent treasure?

Jesus begins with a very simple reflection. Should we invest in things that are going to be destroyed/stolen, or in things that are NOT going to be destroyed? It is better to invest in things that increase in value over time rather than in things that lose their value. 

Jesus applies this truth to eternity. This material world is not permanent. We know that! Everything wearies, everything breaks, everything passes. But often we exchange one perishable treasure for another. 

For example, our age is awakening to the idea that unbridled consumption is probably not a good idea. So no more consumption but we turn to ecology! But if we forget the Creator and the sky, in all this, it’s just trading one materialism for another. Neither Amazon nor the Amazon is eternal. 

How can we store up treasures in heaven? One way is to use our material wealth for the advancement of the kingdom of God. (Beware, however, of the abuse of this teaching: you don’t buy a place in heaven. Preachers, churches, religions can make calls for donations in order to get rich, to store up treasure on earth). More broadly, storing up a treasure in heaven is living for the glory of God, it is « seek first his kingdom and his righteousness ».

Jesus gives us a very useful test to know what our treasures are, where our treasures are, v21: for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  The heart is what we love with. What are our concerns, our passions, our interests, our favorite websites? What do we fill our free time with? What do we enjoy most in our heart? What worries our heart the most? Follow your heart to find your treasure. Is it a perishable or a permanent treasure?

  1. Having a clear or a blurred vision? v22-23

These verses seem a little off topic. Why is Jesus doing anatomy in the middle of a commentary on material goods and money? But since just before this and also just after, Jesus talks about riches and treasures, we can know that he does not change the subject. 

If our vision is blurred, if we see badly, it will affect our whole body, our whole ability to move forward. 

A healthy eye is a view of the world that sees that the most important things in life are not things. It is a look that does not forget God and his kingdom. It is a look that sees the needs of others and tries to help them.  It is a look that sees the many daily graces and blessings for which we can thank God, even in difficult times. 

If a boss only thinks about money, he will be a bad boss. If a poor person only thinks about winning the lottery, or if a young person only thinks about the brand of his clothes or his look on instagram, he will live badly, he will walk in darkness.

If I see another human being, and all I see is a pile of soulless cells, a pumping heart like a machine, then why not abort, euthanize, despise, discriminate against, sex change, etc.?  But if I see in my neighbor, my next door neighbor, as a human being created in the image of God, a precious, eternal soul, on its way to eternity with or without God, it is another vision of the human being.

In this time of covid, I find it interesting that many are beginning to ask themselves the question: should we look only at physical health, and the delay of death at all costs? And of course it doesn’t help when there are billions of euros at stake. Do we have clear vision or a blurred vision?

3. To serve a cruel master or a benefactor master, v24

This word, Mammon, is very interesting. It is a Hebrew word that means « wealth », but Matthew, who writes in Greek, does not translate it: he leaves the word Mammon. Wealth in itself is not the problem, it is when it becomes a god, a master, an idol. Mammon is when money becomes a god, which offers salvation, it demands love, it demands sacrifices. Jesus’ solution is not to get rid of money, it is to dethrone Mammon from our hearts. 

Obviously, rich and poor are involved. We can idolize money whether we are rich or poor, socialist or capitalist, environmentalist or oil magnates.

Let’s take a few moments to compare these two masters. God wants to be our master, for this he has paid the price of our salvation, once and for all, he gives his love freely, he frees us from sin, and he never tires of forgiving, he makes us love one another. He demands our obedience, for our good, and he gives us strength. On the other hand, Mammon: he is not generous, he is never satisfied with our sacrifices, he has no interest in our sakes, our well-being, the sake of our families, he puts us in competition with each other: those who have less, we must despise them, those who have more, we must envy them.  Mammon is a cruel master: do you really want to live for him?

4. To live in worry or to live in confidence?

v25, that’s why… don’t worry.  The major application that Jesus makes is about worrying: v25, v27, v28, v34.  The problem with this vision of the world that seeks salvation, security, well-being, the success of material things, is that it constantly produces anxiety. Have I had enough? And what will happen tomorrow?

Jesus gives us many reasons not to live in anxiety about material things. 

  1. Life is more than food, v25. The God who knows how to create life can nourish it. A human body is infinitely more complex than a sweater…
  2. He takes care of things (the birds, the flowers) that are less valuable, v26, v29. Look at the birds, consider the lilies! The example of the birds is strong: the Heavenly Father feeds them, but that does not mean that they stay all day doing nothing in their nest. Jesus does not forbid work, he forbids worry !
  3. Worry does not solve anything. It doesn’t help. Worry does not prolong life, it is even harmful to health. Worry only makes an already difficult situation worse. Jesus is a realist and acknowledges to « every day its sorrow ». But we must not try to carry tomorrow’s imaginary worries in addition to today’s real worries. And finally, if we limit ourselves to the worries and needs of the present only, seeking his kingdom first and his justice, we are obliged to realize that yes, here, in this moment, he is taking care of me. (as he did for the apostle Paul himself, in 2Cor 11:27).

All this is a call to faith. Worry is unbelief. To people of little faith! Yes, we are, and in spite of that, we are precious in his eyes, we are valuable in his eyes, because he makes us his children. He is the perfect Father, and he will never fail in the duties of a father.  We can live in his trust.

In these times of crisis, everything seems to make us worry. But it is because this world is only looking to those material things. Constantly, we have to re-check our vision, take off our glasses, or correct the biased look that sees only the material world.

Hymn: Que mes regards / May my eyes

Saviour, O Master, direct my steps

May my eyes be only attached to you

Let nothing disturb my mind

It is my prayer day and night

Holy Wisdom, words of God

Make my heart surrender to your vows.

May they lead me as close as possible to my Father.

Since being Son of God is so dear to me

That nothing on earth, that nothing here below

would offer my soul anything else but you

You’re the only one who can fill me up

My heritage, my joy and my peace

Divine clarity, infinite victory

May you be the one who supports my life

I want to keep my eyes every day

On your light waiting for your return x2