It’s commonplace to hear preachers and Bible teachers say that Jesus talked about money more than any other single subject. Here’s a quote from an on-line collection of sermon illustrations that tries to address it statistically, without claiming that Jesus’ most frequent subject was money.
“Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.”
One could easily question this sort of thing (even the number of parables is disputable). Jesus often just mentions money or uses it to illustrate other things, as in His parables about the payment of debts. Those parables are concerned more with grace and forgiveness than with the money that appears in the stories.
However, it is safe to say that Jesus did talk directly about money and did so fairly often. Our text for this coming Sunday, Matthew 6:19-24, is one of those times. However, in this case, when Jesus does in fact speak clearly about what to do with one’s money and possessions, He still isn’t really talking about “handling” them in the sense we usually mean of exercising wise management of such resources. He’s basically just telling us to give money and possessions away and to seek things of greater value, “treasures in heaven.”
There’s another major misconception about that verse 21 specifically, which shows up in the way an awful lot of fund raising, including Christian fund raising takes place. I learned this first from a faithful, generous gift in my first church. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” but what we often seem to hear is the reverse, “For where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.”
In other words, we typically let our money follow our hearts. So fund raisers work at drumming up compassion or just plain passion for a cause, in the hope that we will send dollars in the direction that our hearts have gone. They show us pictures of starving children or offer moving visions of what the new building will accomplish, all on the principle that our money will follow our hearts.
Jesus’ genuine words are actually much more difficult, but more realistic about the condition of our hearts. We love our treasures, love our money. Jesus just takes that as a given, so He tells us to “store up,” to put, that treasure where we really want our hearts to be. If we want our hearts to be with God in heaven, then we need to send our money in that direction by using it for heavenly purposes. Our hearts will follow along after those treasures like a dog after a bone.
Somewhere in all his books, Robert Farrar Capon says that the church’s job in relation to money and giving is not to offer Christians some good cause and then to put those donations to good use. It’s just to urge people to give away their money for almost any half-way decent or even silly Christian reason and thus move their hearts in the right direction toward what really matters.
Capon is always a little extreme, but I think he’s on the right track. It’s in line with a lot of what Jesus said about money, especially in that well-known verse 24, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” It’s not about handling money well or even donating it wisely. It’s about freeing ourselves from it so that we can serve God. Pope Francis’s recent remarks on giving to panhandlers with little concern for how they will use the money are along the same lines.
Maybe we need to quit hyping how much Jesus talked about money and just pay a little more attention to what He actually said about it.