Lay Up Treasures in Heaven

Reflection for Lent

Matthew 6;19–21

Lent is our opportunity to renew our lives, starting with an inner transformation, or in traditional language – our souls.Lent invites us to self examination, to see where our treasure really lies.

Angelos AkotantosTzim78, CC BY-SA 4.0​

Our Lord firmly teaches “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

And although recent events – Covid pandemic – the conflict in Ukraine – have highlighted the shallowness and fragility of the Western cultures of consumption, and affluence, for many that has revealed that our treasure lies in material things, in the knowledge that we have the money to buy a new car long before the present one begins to rust. We eat well, with food on the table, and, as often as not, wine to accompany it, that our finances will not be unduly strained! Advertising in this season invites us to fly out to the States or Australia to visit friends and relatives, or take a bargain holiday in the sun. Yet this life style brings grave risks with it – broken marriages, stress-related illnesses, dependence on alcohol and smoking, people who wake up in the morning and reach for the gin bottle to start the day, because they need a prop even to start the day – and the sheer emptiness and waste of it all.

I have heard more than once, comments such as – “when my husband lost his job, I lost most of my friends” – that reveals something of the sheer nastiness of so many lives dedicated to the acquisition of money, and the power that is perceived to go with it.

It is so hard for the Christian message to take any root in lives given up to materialism. People who knock on doors collecting for the charity Christian Aid and other charities all too often come back with the same story – it’s the poor who give generously, it’s the rich who slam the door in their faces. Beneath the surface of materialism lurks meanness of spirit, pride, greed and selfishness. And the problem for us western Christians is that it doesn’t take much for us too to be sucked into this way of life, and, for all our protestations, for materialism, possessions, and the things of this world, to become our gods, because it is all around us, promoted in the media as the mark of successful human living penetrating the mindset within our own families.

But this is all nonsense for the Christian. We have to stop colluding with the way of the world. Jesus our Lord was born an outcast, lived an outcast, consorted with the dregs of society, died an outcast, but rose victorious and lives in glory forever. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter a scrap whether you die with one pound or a million in the bank; it does matter where you’re going to spend eternity, in the presence of God, or, in a vivid image from the Gospels, looking in at the feast (Matthew 25;1-13) and knowing there’s no way you’re ever going to be allowed in, because you simply weren’t prepared.

Lent is a time to take stock in the gospel words – “where is your treasure”? It is the supreme season of the Christian Year where we should stop running away, and stop deluding ourselves that everything is fine. To adapt what Saint Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, make these things your way of life.” [Phil 4;8]

The trap is to succumb to the false gods of this world, whispering in your ear that you’ll never live up to this standard, so you might as well carry on as before. Lent is not simply a time to take stock, it is a time to turn away from the way of the world, from the emptiness of materialism and greed and the complacency that says “I’m doing my best” and turn again to Christ, a time to “rend your hearts” and ask God to make them clean again. This he can, and he will do, but each of us have to want it. Do you?

Fr. Edward Bryant

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