My running field trip today in the barrios of Old Town Orange. My family has deep roots right here, where my father, a “light” Mexican, attended a white elementary school in the 1940’s and, because of the privilege of not being darker, avoided being shipped to the school for the dark skinned kids. Segregation right here in The OC. Along train tracks and metal industrial buildings and barred windows, it felt like home. Sorry, suburban Orange County. Sorry Anaheim Hills and Newport Beach and Irvine, you can’t do this to me.
Recently I heard a sermon. The preacher (whom I admire and respect deeply) was talking about Jesus and that famous passage about storing up treasures.
Most of us have heard it before — people are to not store up treasures on earth.
I listened. I looked around. I sat wondering what Jesus meant by “treasures.”
Then I gazed around it occurred to me that everyone in the room was in clear violation of Jesus’ words.
Everyone was disobeying Jesus’ command to not store up treasures on earth because everyone in the room, I presume, had stuff that they liked, or even loved: books, cars, handbags, iPhones, furniture, homes, jewelry, surfboards, shoes, clothes (not to mention abstract things like reputations and image).
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21, NIV).
So what could have Jesus meant with these famous words? I can think of a few options.
Perhaps he was speaking to small group of people who were called to take vows of poverty. He called the 12 to follow him, and leave behind everything else. He didn’t give those radical orders to everyone. Today, many monks and nuns and priests take similar vows. They give up their stuff. The scripture would make sense in this case — those people should take Jesus at his word, literally, and not store up treasures on earth.
Or maybe Jesus was saying something like this: “It’s okay to have stuff, but don’t love it too much.”
We’ve all heard that axiom before.
But I struggle with this option. How much is too much?
I own a Rolex watch that was a gift from my father when I graduated from college. I like my Rolex. Or maybe I love it. I want to keep it (store it?) until I die.
I thought I left it at my yoga studio once, and I was a complete basket case until I found it under the seat of my Prius (which I also really like). My attachment to my watch is not solely because of its monetary value; it has meaning to me, there’s a story behind it, I want to pass it to one of my children.
I have other possessions, some that I keep (store up?) and which have great meaning to me: my books, my Martin J40 guitar, photos of my family and friends.
There’s this cast-iron Staub cocotte I bought my Mom for Christmas. Before she had her stroke. She never used it. She said it was so beautiful she wanted to keep it perfect. I now keep it on my stove to remind me of her, and of her love of cooking.
Plato did talk about the three appetites of man: for pleasure, for status, and for knowledge.
Many of our things bring us pleasure and, clearly, status.
I hate to admit it but I probably like my Rolex because it’s a status symbol. Damn, I hate to admit that but I know it’s true.
I bet you can relate, though. I bet you and have things you really like, or even love.
I left church that day feeling unsettled. The congregation heard the words of Jesus and the preacher, but it seemed clear that everyone was probably in clear violation of his teaching.
His teachings are hard. I read them. I contemplate them. I try to follow them.
But I like my stuff, my treasures. And I like to store them up.
Something tells me he’s okay with it.