Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also

Anthony Zimmerman
Reproduced with Permission

"And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matt 6:16-20).

Fasting that is virtuous, vs fasting that is vain

By this time we know that one thing that Christ did NOT want his disciples to waste their lives on chasing after vain glory. He did not need a Church of Pharisees, such as boast: "I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get" (Luke 18:12). Fasting must be a manner of humble prayer to God to ask for forgiveness of sins, an exercise in self discipline, a petition for blessings for self and for the neighbor, accompanied perhaps by almsgiving. To make fasting a "holier than thou," show is a perversion of self, is not a pursuit of virtue, is even hateful to God. Isaiah used forceful language to distinguish fasting that is the real thing from its counterfeit:

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? ... "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard." (Isaiah 58: 3-8).

Saint John Chrysostom notes in his Homily 20 on Saint Matthew that Christ makes no law here to add more days of fasting. The practice at the time was overdone by the Pharisees and for show. In the Olympic games, Chrysostom points out, the contestants display their skills to the audience and to the judge, but to the judge more than to the people. From him comes the prize. So also our fasts must be directed to God first of all. If we discipline ourselves in this manner we become strong in despising vain glory: "Thou hast trodden under foot all human glory, and art freed from the grievous bondage of men, and can become a true worker of virtue."

Selling one's true self to a hot pursuit of wealth

Fondness for glory drives men to an enslaving pursuit of wealth, says Chrysostom in his sermon:

For nothing so trains men to be fond of riches, as the fondness for glory. This, for instance, is why men devise those herds of slaves, and that swarm of eunuchs, and their horses with trappings of gold, and their silver tables, and all the rest of it, yet more ridiculous; not to satisfy any wants, nor to enjoy any pleasure, but that they may make a show before the multitude.

Contrary to a relentless pursuit of riches which has questionable rewards in this life, Jesus asks us to do better, to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. That is sound banking. Selling yourself to the pursuit of riches instead is a cheap sale indeed indicates Chrysostom in scathing language: By slavery to wealth you forget all about heavenly things, and give up what is noblest and most precious to yourself. You can't even think any more about what is high, but chain yourself to thoughts "about money, usuries and loans, and gains, and ignoble traffickings." You lose your ability to be concerned about your true self, and become "bound like a dog to a tomb ... barking at all that come near thee, thou hast this one employment continually, to keep for others what thou hast laid up. Than this what can be more wretched?"

Purpose of life

"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Matt 6:22-24).

"Yea, thou dost light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness" (Psalm 18:28). "He who has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor" (Proverbs 22:27). "Take heed lest there be a base thought in your heart, and you say, `The seventh year, the year of release is near,' and your eye be hostile to your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and it be sin in you" (Deut 15:9). Jesus is saying that it is the intention that counts, the free will and decision by which we direct ourselves either toward God or toward money. If we allow the light that comes from God to shine into our lives and give it direction, then we become incandescent; if we block out God from our lives, then life is without purpose, is darkness itself.

Whether our intention is good or evil, is not a matter of innate necessity but is the choice that we ourselves make. We are the boss, the one who decides whether to sit under the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or under the tree of life. Too often, however, we want darkness to be light, and light to be darkness. We want to fashion truth, whereas we need to receive truth, not to make it. Jesus said as much to the Pharisees who refused to acknowledge what their own eyes could see, namely that a blind man had been cured miraculously, if only they would want to see that:

Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, "Are we also blind?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, `We see,' your guilt remains (John 9:39-41).

"I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have false gods before me" is the first commandment. Is idol worship wrong? Though it is clearly wrong, many Israelites, and many peoples around them paid respects to idols. Their false worship never became right despite a popular consensus.

"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:19). Again it is wrong. All judges, all legislators, all disbelievers, all the media to the contrary notwithstanding, sodomy is and remains clearly wrong. "If your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness." Sodomists make their eyes to be unsound. Their whole body is then in darkness.

The same holds for abortion, embryonic stem cell research, contraception, contraceptive sterilization, divorce and re-marriage, defense of abortion and receiving Holy Communion. We make our choice: we open our eyes to let in God's light; or we make our eyes unsound and agree to live in darkness outside of the pale of God's light. Unfortunately, if we live in darkness, and then die in darkness, the next world too, will be darkness. No one is born blind spiritually, who cannot bring himself to see the light. As Jesus told the stubborn Pharisees: "If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, `We see,' your guilt remains (John 9:39-41).

Can we excuse ourselves by saying "But I was born that way"? We know ahead of time that this is one excuse that will not make the cut with Jesus, because He said:

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God" (John 3:19-21).

Saint Gregory of Nyssa (d. 395) has no words of praise for people who claim they were "born that way." He says that we have to give birth to our own selves: "We are in a sense our own parents, and we give birth to ourselves by our own free choice of what is good" (Migne, Patrologia Graeca, 44, 702). Sad birthday, or happy birthday, that is what we bring into being by managing our lives for good or for ill, as the Lord helps or weeps, and our relatives who are in heaven clap their hands or look the other way.