When one of our sons was about 4, he was really into his toy fire truck. It was a ladder truck with flashing lights, sirens, doors that opened, even a working steering wheel. One day, we were walking down the sidewalk and parked across the street by what was not only a real ladder truck, but one with real firemen hanging around.
One of them noticed my son frozen in awe at the sight of a real ladder truck and waved him over to come climb around and meet some real firemen.
But he was paralyzed.
He loved having a toy he could manipulate, but the real thing — far bigger, more powerful and totally out of his control — was overwhelming.
Most of you reading this column have grown past playing with toys. But it’s possible that you relate to your money the way my son related to his toy truck, as that which can be mastered and manipulated at will. But have you ever encountered the real thing that is our material wealth?
In Luke 16:14-18, Jesus shows us the reality of money in a way similar to the fireman who confronted my son with the real fire truck, as that which is much bigger and not so easily manipulated. In fact, He tells us that money and material wealth is so powerful that it has the capacity to control and master us.
Admittedly, that’s an intense idea. And wildly, Jesus presents it even more
intensely than that. His perspective is that your heart and mine are not simply in danger of being mastered, but that the heart’s default mode is to be mastered.
The human heart is not made for itself. It’s been created for relationship.
To put a finer point on it, it is made to be ruled, and will be ruled … by something.
The only question is, will it be ruled by the kind and gracious God for which it was made, or will it endure the cruelties of being indentured to another master?
So Jesus doesn’t say, “You must maintain mastery of your own heart, lest you be mastered.”
He says instead that “No one can serve two masters, for he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
This binary way of putting it is problematic for people like us who love to have our choices, isn’t it?
We might imagine that our hearts have a polyamorous capacity to handle a lot of loves.
But because the heart is made for a devoted — not divided — love, Jesus says it simply can’t work that way.
If you’ve ever been in a work situation with more than one boss, you know what He’s talking about. You’ve learned that attention to one boss equals inattention to the other; hard work for one equals slacking to the other; pleasing work to one boss is pitiful to the other. You’ve tried serving two masters, and it was a disaster.
Jesus saying that’s not only impossible, it’s no way to live.
The human heart was created to worship God alone, to live for His glory, to serve and enjoy Him, so that with Him as our supreme love, we are then able to know the gift of “having all these things added” in enjoying God’s good gifts, rather than trying to steal from them what only the Lord can provide.
The trouble is that our hearts are always being contended for to give away glory, to put us into service, and we’re being promised a satisfaction that only the Giver can provide. Of course, material wealth isn’t unique in its capacity to captivate our hearts, but it is particularly potent.
Many of us roll our eyes when the rich and famous complain about the burdens of wealth and fame. We might imagine they’re spoiled, and that if we were in their position, we would handle things so much better. But I’m not so sure. We might do well to listen to those who have come to possess what our culture imagines to be The Dream, and see how they attest to the experience.
Madonna gave an interview to Vogue magazine a few years ago and was asked about what motivates her.
“My drive in life comes from a fear of being mediocre. That is always pushing me,” she said. “I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being, but I feel I am still mediocre and uninteresting unless I do something else. Because even though I have become somebody, I still have to prove that I am somebody. My struggle has never ended, and I guess it never will.”
Here is someone who would make the short list of the most successful and famous people in the world. Not only is she accomplished, famous, but her personal wealth is said to be around $600 million.
Surely if we were to find someone with a satiated heart, someone with freedom, someone with a secure self-image, it would be her. And yet, she attests to a heart driven by fear, haunted by insignificance, and the sense that it will be unrelenting for all her days.
Augustine, upon his conversion, summed it up in a prayer: “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”
Jesus is kind to relieve us of the terrible burden of trying to make a life for ourselves, by giving His life for ours so that we would be redeemed and find rest in Him.
The Rev. John Standridge is pastor at Christ Church Presbyterian. He can be reached at email@example.com.