Recently I prepared a lesson for our parish Bible study. Our group was studying the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ amazing teaching about proper Christian attitudes and actions. We were on the section where Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth….But store up treasure in heaven….For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Matt 6:19-21).
Jesus clearly taught against materialism, the scourge of our modern society, where people make their possessions the focus of their entire lives, to the point they are “possessed by their possessions.”
So I prepared some discussion questions. For example: Did Jesus mean we must take a vow of poverty and never own a single thing? Did Jesus mean all rich people are greedy and evil? What is the main message here for people like us, who live in a prosperous, materialistic culture?
Then I came up with a terrific summary of this section of the Sermon on the Mount: the test for whether our hearts are devoted to our possessions or to the Lord, is how we react if we lose something valuable. What if we lost prized possessions, such as our car or our shoe collection, our pension fund or even our home? Would we be absolutely devastated and bitter? Or would we trust that God will get us through the crisis and provide our daily bread? Would we be thankful for the things we still had, such as our family and friends and faith, and still have some joy in our lives?
I must admit I felt kind of proud of myself. Ooh, that’s a good summary, I thought. The people at the Bible Study surely will be impressed. Then I pondered what it might be like if I lost something very valuable, such as my car or my job or our home. Well, it would be kind of devastating at first, no doubt, but I felt pretty certain if something like that ever happened, I would trust in Jesus’ words, and be thankful for what I still had, and move on with my life with joy, knowing God would provide. Yes, I had convinced myself that I was a regular Mother Teresa, completely detached from materialism and the perfect embodiment of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.
You know that old verse from Proverbs, “Pride goes before a fall”? Well, do yourself a big favor: don’t ever convince yourself that you’re a regular Mother Teresa.
The very next morning after I wrote down those Bible Study discussion questions and patted myself on the back for being so non-materialistic, I was engaged in my usual morning routine. I got out of bed and went into our home’s “porcelain library,” and while there I read the latest news on my iPad. Suddenly, the iPad slipped from my hand and dropped to the tile floor with a sickening crunch. The glass touch-screen broke.
I immediately moaned from the depth of my soul, “No, not my iPad! It cost over 700 bucks! This is the worst thing ever!!”
I was truly heartbroken for days on end. Then our Bible Study class met, and I asked my discussion questions, and I offered my terrific summary, and the people in the class commented that I was so wise. And the whole time I felt like a fool. I felt like such a hypocrite. I knew without a doubt, I was still “possessed by my possessions,” and every one of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount was pricking my conscience and making me question all of my assumptions about modern life—which I think is exactly what Jesus intended.