Today Matthew is still recounting a part of the famous message of Jesus from the Mount of the Beatitudes, one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited. Jesus is preaching about the danger of storing up earthly treasures and he makes a statement that engenders my question this morning about “treasure.” He suggests that we not be concerned with material goods and such, but rather go deeper, finding more precious things. He says simply and directly, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” And so I ask myself today: “Lois, where is your heart?”
As many people have, I’ve been taking the opportunity lately that working from home affords me to do the things I never have time for. My latest and greatest effort has been getting rid of much of what I no longer need. I am amazed at how difficult a task it has become because of all the things that I call “mine.” They are not, in the grand scheme of things, what people might see as “treasures” but they are meaningful. to me for various reasons—mostly sentimental. It has been a difficult but freeing thing to divest myself of what I no longer need, and what ultimately helps me to remember that, as the Scriptures say, where your treasure is, there also is your heart. And there is much more space for the inner things that I value. Less clutter = more freedom in every way.
Try it! I highly recommend letting go!
Today we celebrate Saints Anne and Joachim, parents of Mary, Mother of Jesus. If we ever needed to speak of what makes up the image of a good grandparent or any person of wisdom, each of today’s readings is a noble start:
- In a dream God invites Solomon to ask for something that will help him in his life. It is a beautiful exchange (1 KGS 3:5, 7-12) wherein Solomon shows his wisdom, asking God: Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.
- In Psalm 119:77, the psalmist asks God: Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight.
- Paul reminds the Romans (8:28): We know that all things work for good for those who love God…
- And, in conclusion, Jesus tells his disciples (MT 13: 44…) The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Are you ready, with all the above currency, to go and buy the field?
The lovely book by John Philip Newell entitled Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace is set up in such a way that the reader not only finds – in addition to the prayers for the life of the world – prayers of awareness and blessing twice a day but also quotes from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and the Quran. That sounds like a lot of words but, in fact, it is not. Here are the three Scripture quotes for Monday morning that in their brevity moves one, perhaps, to a deeper, wordless place of peace.
Wait for God. Be strong and let your heart take courage. (Psalm 27: 14)
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)
Remember God deep in your soul with humility and reverence. (Quran – The Heights 7 .205)
When I went to high school, my first homeroom teacher was Sister Lawrence Joseph. I was used to the masculine names of religious Sisters; in those days most of the more prestigious saints were men. Sister Lawrence wasn’t the best math teacher I ever had but I always remembered that her feast day was August 10th – the feast on the liturgical calendar of Saint Lawrence, Martyr – because of the way legend says he lived and died.
Lawrence was a deacon in the Church at Rome during the third century, the time when Christians were still being persecuted for their faith. As such, he was in the inner circle of the Pope so that when the Pope was assassinated, he knew it was likely that he would be next. As deacon of the Roman church, Lawrence had the responsibility for the material goods of the Church and the distribution of alms to the poor. He had been giving all the money on hand to the poor and even selling sacred vessels of the altar to increase the sum. When the prefect of Rome heard of this, he demanded that Lawrence bring all the treasure of the Church to him, “rendering to Caesar what was due.” Lawrence was given three days to assemble all the riches of the Church. When the prefect arrived, Lawrence had gathered all the poor, blind, lame maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed people and said to the prefect, “These are the treasure of the Church.”
The fury of the prefect was known by the cruelty of the kind of death Lawrence was to die and the heroism of the saint was sealed by his response. The prefect had a large gridiron prepared with hot coals beneath it and Lawrence’s body placed on it. After he had suffered the pain for a long time, legend says, the saint made his famous cheerful remark, “It is well-done. Turn me over.” (http://www.franciscanmedia.com) Lawrence was said to be 33 years old at the time of his death.
In a moment of such violence in our own country and such courage seen in the lives of many young people speaking out and caring for their elders, St. Lawrence shines as an example of selflessness and ingenuity. Let our prayer today be for the end of senseless cruelty and a willingness to stand for those most in need of our courage and care.
I had a bit of an epiphany this morning. (Is that possible, or is an epiphany always spectacular?) I was reading the gospel from today’s lectionary – very brief and so familiar – which read:
Jesus said to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. (MT 13: 44-46)
It’s such a pair of vivid images, so easy to see and understand that we can’t help but get the message of the need for willingness to give everything to experience it. Maybe because of the prayer of Ignatius Loyola that I offered here yesterday (who knows?) or maybe just because it was time for me to make the connection, as soon as I read that gospel, the following verse (LK 17:21) flashed into my mind. It’s not a simile but a statement that speaks of us and I wondered why that truth is so difficult for us to comprehend.
The kingdom of God is within you!
Yesterday I had another of those conversations about what some of us have come to call “bigger barns.” As “girls” often do, we were admiring someone’s lovely clothing. As is also frequently the case, the woman in question said she found it on sale and just couldn’t leave it in the store. She then proceeded to lament her full closet and her intention to clean out and let go of things she hadn’t worn in more than a year. We all agreed we tend to wear the same few outfits, maybe pairing different blouses with skirts or slacks but eventually noticing that we wear what is comfortable and those items in our closet that we like best. So why do we hold on so tightly to all the rest…?
I can easily join in to these conversations, amazed that I have accumulated such a large wardrobe. To be fair, most of my closet is filled with “hand-me-overs” – lovely clothes that have belonged to my sister or a close friend when they were new. Still, the point can be made that too much is always too much. What shall I do with all of this as we move from summer into winter? I could just invest in a couple of (additional) storage bins, the kind that fit under a bed or on a shelf…”Bigger barns!” I hear my inner voice shouting as I read the lectionary gospel text for today (LK 12:13-21). This time of purging my wardrobe – which I do hope will actually happen today – I will be mindful of all those who have “lost everything” in recent hurricanes, floods and fires. Moreover, I will hear again some of those people who, in the midst of their lament, say that “God is good; all of my family has survived.” It’s then that I hear Marty Haugen singing, “Where your treasure is, there your heart shall be. All that you possess will never set you free. Seek the things that last; come and learn from me. Where your treasure is your heart shall be.”
There has been lots of speculation over the history of this world of what heaven is like. The difficult thing about any definition is that nobody is really sure. People have talked about “moving toward the light” and other sensations as part of near death experiences but it seems there is no absolute definition, primarily because we live in this realm for now and can only speculate about the next. The gospel for today (MT 13:44-52) gives a few good similes, however, that can help us begin to consider what heaven might feel like at least. They’re very familiar: the joy of finding a treasure in a field, the willingness of selling everything to buy a pearl of great price…but then Jesus talks a bit more seriously about our responsibility not to be swayed by externals. At the end of this morning’s text he says that every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.
I find that a very helpful sentence and know the truth of it from my experience of life where so much has changed over the past half century. One of my housemates is fond of quoting our novice director who said (among many other pieces of advice): “Don’t be the first to jump on the bandwagon of any idea or trend, but don’t be the last.” In other words use your mind and intuition to come to a decision on what is good in a changing world.
One of the wisest personages in the Scriptures is Solomon and he appears in today’s lectionary as well. When God gives Solomon “a blank check” for a reward (1KGS 3:5, 7-12) he doesn’t ask for anything material but rather speaks of being young and inexperienced and therefore says: “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Great answer! Would that we would all be so wise!
Perhaps it seems I have veered off from my original intent of writing about what heaven could be like. Not so! All of this is building to a statement of Jesus that seems finally in our lifetime to be considered by many as a way to proceed in this life and to prepare for the next. Not part of today’s readings but essential to this consideration is LK 17:21. Jesus says (perhaps shockingly) “The kingdom of God (or heaven) is within you.” Some translations say “among you” or “in you midst” but the message is clearly that we needn’t wait for our death to live in heaven. It is here, lived by those whose wisdom is akin to Solomon’s. It doesn’t mean that everything is perfect but it does mean that we ought to be conscious of God’s presence working at all times and in all places and that we are to participate in this presence. That is a difficult teaching, especially if we live on the level of personality instead of “putting on the mind of Christ.”
I am stopped in my tracks here – thinking that I have opened a very large can of worms that takes more than a few sentences to bring to conclusion. So let me just make a few suggestions for reflection on what putting on the mind of Christ might mean that might lead to more and deeper consideration.
- How would you feel if you found a treasure or won the lottery? What would you do with the money?
- What is your most prized material possession? For whom or what person would you be willing to give it up or even share it?
- What does the concept of “an understanding heart” mean to you? Can you think of times when someone has shown you an example of that reality in a big way?
- What is the level of your self-esteem? Can you believe that the kingdom of heaven exists within you? That your actions and ways of relating further the reality of God in this life? Has anyone ever said anything to you indicating that kind of message (e.g. “You’re an angel!” or ” God must have put you in my life because…”) Did you believe it?
These are just beginning prompts for considering the possibility that we are, in fact, responsible for living the kingdom of God right here, right now. Can you see it? Are you even willing to entertain the concept? That would be a start…
Today’s lectionary texts offer a quick summary of what has been called salvation history, beginning with the Israelites who “with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith…have courage.” (WIS 18:6-9) Both this reading and the second are primarily a commentary on the faith and hope of Abraham whose journey of life took a serious turn when he was facing old age and God told him to leave his home and move to a land God would show him. He could have stayed home…but he didn’t. Sometimes we have to wait for God’s call as Psalm 33 tells us. (Our soul waits for the Lord who is our help and our shield. May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you.)
Things are not always clear on the spiritual journey. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us of this by saying: Faith is the realization of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Speaking of Abraham’s faith the letter chronicles his story and how God worked through him because of his faith. (HEB 11:1-2, 8-10) But none of these words are just about Abraham. It is for us also to wait for the Lord in hope. Today is a reflection on our own sense of what faith calls out from us. Sometimes it isn’t easy to be patient with ourselves or what some have called “the slow work of God.” But we look to Jesus who is the model for such trust who gives good advice for the posture we ought to take when he says: Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who wait for their master’s return from a wedding. (LK 12: 34-48) Are we willing to wait for the clarity that sometimes only comes toward the end of our lives? Can we look back from the vantage point of today and see patterns of God’s love and the deepening of our faith and hope? For me, the most significant line in all of today’s Scripture selections comes from Jesus when he says: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.
May we all search our hearts today for the treasure of faith and hope that abides there – sometimes too deep to access, sometimes right before our eyes, but always, always there – waiting in the light of our God.