Commentary on the Gospel of
Today’s gospel draws from the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus taught about the values we need to live in the kingdom of heaven. This reading includes only two topics from these teachings: one about the locus of our treasures and the other about vision or discernment.
Treasures on earth are subject to forces that dissipate and destroy; treasures in heaven remain secure. Further, “where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” We spend most of our time and energy working to earn a living. Hopefully, we get more than we need and share some to help others and store some for the future. I don’t see this teaching as a knock on working and saving, but instead as a caution to consider how these activities are forming us. There is much to learn from our work and its sufferings, failures, and achievements. In the economy of heaven, nothing is wasted if we are willing to watch, listen, and pray. Adding remuneration to the equation does not detract from the formation available to us in all aspects of our lives.
Jesus follows this teaching about treasure with a metaphor: the eye is the lamp of the body, lighting the path for us. This is no slight to the blind, as Jesus means something deeper than visual acuity. He is pointing at the importance of our perceptions and their role in our formation. Are those perceptions shaped by the values of the kingdom of heaven? Or are they shaped by selfish ambitions that reject those values?
Today’s first reading provides a vivid illustration of how selfish ambitions can cloud our vision. After the death of her son (King Ahaziah), Athalia decided to massacre all her rivals in order to take the kingdom for herself. But Jehosheba, a courageous and godly woman, spirited away Joash (Ahaziah’s son and a true heir to the kingdom).
Jehosheba and her husband, Jehoiada (see 2 Chr. 22:11), hid Joash in the temple for six years. One wonders about Athalia – did she not go to the temple because of her competing devotion to Baal? However, she showed up at the temple when she heard people giving homage to Joash.
This palace intrigue shows that the pursuit of earthly kingdoms will sometimes stop at nothing – even killing one’s own relatives. Such pursuits achieve only fleeting victory and no real satisfaction. This short-lived reign did not end well for Athalia, and one wonders whether she ever enjoyed peace or satisfaction – a cautionary tale indeed.
Like Athalia, sometimes our perceptions become clouded. Empty promises of happiness can fool us into taking a path that can only deliver misery. Such are the tactics of our adversary. But thanks be to God that he can save us from that path! The world may scoff, but Jesus offers the only path that works. Of course, we will also find suffering and difficulty on that path. God can turn these things into good in forming us and fitting us for His kingdom. The path to perdition delivers suffering and difficulty, too, and no such promise.
Lord, help us to trust our lives to you with the end in mind. Shape our perceptions and open us to the cues we need for our formation, knowing that nothing is wasted in the economy of the kingdom of heaven if we trust these things to you. Thanks be to God.