Thoughts on Matthew 6: 19-24
Why would Jesus go from talking about treasure to talking about good eyes and bad eyes, and then go back to talking about treasure (money, or “mammon”)? This whole eyes, light and darkness insertion can be quite confusing, both because of it’s seemingly obscure meaning and odd placement. I believe what Jesus is doing here is building an argument, addressing an unstated counterargument, summarizing his position, and then dropping the mic.
Jesus has said multiple times up to this point in his sermon that we are not to seek the praise (rewards) of men, but rather rewards from the Father. He then, in these verses, transitions into the fact there really are treasures to be laid up either here (likely alluding to the religious leaders’ attempt to “accumulate” praise and rewards) or in heaven, and makes it quite clear that imperishable heavenly rewards given by the Father are of far greater value than anything we can obtain here on Earth, whether tangible or intangible. He concludes the first part of this argument by stating that what we treasure leads our heart – whether that’s money, possessions, power, relationships, knowledge – to its final destination.
Jesus then appears to interrupt his train of thought about rewards and treasure to talk about our eyes being the “lamp of our body,” but what he’s doing here is answering an unstated counterargument (but one I suspect he knew some people in his audience were thinking) which is this: We can please the Lord and seek/receive riches and the praise of men. Rather than answer the face of this fallacious argument directly right away, Jesus cuts to the heart if the issue (pun intended). The reality is that many who hear him will remain in darkness because their eyes are “bad” and the light of the truth will not shine on their hard hearts. Moreover, what light they think they have – knowledge of the Law (religion), self-righteousness, Jewishness (cultural/ethnic superiority) – is actually extreme darkness.
Another aspect of this section to consider is that the lamp of the eye faces inward, not outward. This passage is not about what’s inside of us shining out through our eyes and revealing what’s in our hearts. Rather, the good eye that sees the things of God allows light to shine into and fill the body with light. However, a bad eye does not let the light of God in, and the body is full of darkness.
In order to completely destroy any notion that we can please God while simultaneously seeking riches and glory, Jesus concludes his argument forcefully saying, “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.” Though, even this statement is somewhat metaphorical. So, because we are often so hard of hearing and love to try to twist any ambiguous words, Jesus asserts this mic-drop conclusion: “You cannot serve God and money.” This will be important to remember moving forward because the main point of next passage flows directly from it.
However, the takeaway from this section is this: our hearts are led by what we treasure. This is slightly nuanced from the idea that what we treasure is a result of what’s in our hearts. What Jesus says is that wherever our treasure is accumulated, whether here or in heaven, is where our hearts will be. If we seek the praise of men and toil after temporal wealth, our hearts will perish with it in the end; but, if we pray, give, fast and love others to please the Lord, our rewards will be eternal and flow from our heavenly Father.
God cares about our hearts, which, if you’ve been following this blog series on Matthew you’ll know, is the whole point of the Sermon on the Mount. However, this is not the only portion of Scripture where we learn this. Here are just a few verses to consider as both an admonition and encouragement.
“Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them.” – Deuteronomy 11:16
“He said, ‘Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.’” – Joshua 24:23
“For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.” – 1 Kings 11:4
So the big question to wrestle with is this: What do we treasure in our hearts? Is it Christ and his Kingdom, or is it another master and the kingdom of this world?