In 1639 the elders of the First Congregational Church in Boston convened a special meeting in order to admonish and discipline Robert Keayne – by all accounts a shrewd businessman, devout Christian, and all around good guy – for the sin of GREED.
3 or 4 years earlier these elders had decided that Christians should sell their wares for no more than a 4% markup. However, it had come to light that Mr Keayne was selling his wares for a 6% markup.
Did that 4% figure come from somewhere in the Old Testament?
Is it from something Jesus said in the New Testament?
No it is not.
It it something from one of Paul’s letters?
Not a chance.
No, that 4% figure was COMPLETELY ARBITRARY.
The congregation of the First Congregational Church basically got together and said: in our place and our time – Boston, Massachusetts, 1639 – charging anything more than 4% means that you’re greedy anything under that and you’re fine!
From our modern perspective – the perspective of people who live in google-facebook-amazon ad driven, internationally connected economy – the idea of drawing a stark line in the sand like that seems like a crazy thing to do.
But from the perspective of this passage from chapter 6 of the Gospel of Matthew, defining greed in such a simple, concrete way like that was a very, very smart thing to do.
Plunked down in the middle of our reading from Matthew 6 is a teaching that doesn’t seem to fit with Jesus’ other teachings on money.
Jesus says, “Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness.”
What does that have to do with ANYTHING, let alone, what does it have to do with MONEY?
So the basic idea of this teaching is that, at this moment even, we are surrounded by all sorts of light. Light is streaming out of our iPhones and androids and laptop screens, pouring through the windows of our homes, coming out of our overhead lights and our lamps.
If our eyes are healthy, we’re able to take that light into our bodies such that we’re able navigate around with ease. So there is a real sense in which if your eyes are healthy your whole body is filled with light
On the flip side of that, if our eyes are unhealthy it doesn’t matter how much light there is pouring out of our screens and in through our windows we can’t take it into our bodies. And so we’re not going to be able to navigate our way around, at least, not without stubbing our pinky toes on our furniture!
So, in a very real sense if our eyes are unhealthy the our whole body is filled with darkness. We’re unable use our them as they as they are intended to be used.
So in the context of money and things what does this mean?
It means that greed and materialism are the only vices to which we are completely and utterly blind and so we can’t navigate our way out of it.
All it takes for us to be blind to them is to be standing next to someone who is little bit better off than we are, a little bit looser with their spending than we are, a little bit more into things and possessions than we are. When we see that person, we’re able to point at them and say, “THANK GOD I’m not like that person They sure are greedy, aren’t they? They sure are materialistic!”
But we’re unable to see ourselves in that same light because our eyes are unhealthy.
Matthew 6:19-34 (New Living Translation)
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
“Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.
“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
So what is the fix?
How do we go from having unhealthy eyes and bodies filled with darkness to having healthy eyes and bodies filled with light?
How do stop serving money and start serving God?
How do we stop storing up treasure on earth and start storing up treasure in heaven?
As trite and predictable the answer may be, the first step toward getting healthy eyes and bodies full of light is to simply understand – on an intellectual level – the gospel story.
Cuz at the heart of this whole thing that we’re doing here, we have this story about a God who loves us so much in fact that God gives up being God, takes on flesh and lives and suffers and dies.
To what end?
Well, the whole point of this story is that through it, God is showing us what GOD treasures.
And what does God treasure?
Well… it looks a whole lot like you. And it looks a whole lot like me.
In other words, what this story is telling us is that each of us, all of us, every single one of us, from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich ALREADY has significance.
We have significance because we are crazily, ridiculously, stupidly evenloved by God.
And if we can just get to a point where we really believe that’s true, then, all of sudden, we don’t feel the need to amass money and things around us to feel more significant, more important better than other people
All of sudden, we don’t feel the need to measure other people’s significance by the money and stuff they have because we can see, with healthy eyes that their significance comes from the same place ours does: from the fact that we are loved by God.
Trite and predictable as that message is I think it’s actually true. And my hope is that you, and your greedy little heart, might come to believe it too!