There are a few times in my life that Bible verses haunt me. Whenever I stay in bed a little longer, the verse my mother used to wake me up when I’d slept too long comes to mind, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want, like an armed warrior.” It’s both Proverbs 6:10-11 and Proverbs 24:33-34. It’s also an incredibly refreshing way to wake up.
Every time I walk past the people counting offering on Sunday morning, I think of Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers. I don’t mention this to the folks faithfully counting the money each week.
The one that gets me time and again, though, is from the Sermon on the Mount. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
I never thought that would haunt me. I’ve never cared a lot about stuff, really. Cars are modes of transportation and as long as they get from point A to point B with air conditioning and heat, I’m ok. Home should be reasonably comfortable, definitely safe, and have decent access to Target and grocery stores. I have no desire to own a purse that cost several hundred dollars. I think I’m pretty easy to please.
And yet, the haunting phrase comes, “Do not store up for yourselves…” It always stops there. Somehow, in the United States, being a responsible adult means storing up things. I feel strangely accomplished that there’s an extra stick of deodorant in the cabinet, shampoo and conditioner waiting under the sink if needed, a back up meal in the pantry. The other day, my partner and I went to Costco. “Do we have toilet paper?” I asked. Neither he nor I knew how much, so we got another Costco size package of toilet paper just in case.
It turns out, we had a brand new Costco size package of toilet paper when we got home. We have a storage closet on our balcony, ready to hold what won’t fit inside.
“Do not store up for yourselves.” Treasure, we might think, rules out the mundane things like toilet paper. I’m not sure it does.
Somehow, things like toilet paper are marks of success. When basic hygiene items aren’t readily available, we often think people are irresponsible. My mom is quite proud of the fact that in their 39 years of marriage, she and my father have only run out of toilet paper once. It’s a sign of a well-managed household.
The stashed toilet paper is part of a bigger picture, one in which my partner and I recently opened up IRAs, are paying off what little debt we have, and putting money into savings. We’re living into the middle class narrative of managing money and being prepared. The list of things we should do is long, after all.
I’m not sure how it fits with the Gospel, though. I’m not sure what it means when we literally have a storage room full of extra things. I’m not sure what it means that we have money in the bank “just in case.” We live in a place and time where the people who don’t have those things are looked down upon. We want to teach them how to better manage their resources so they, too, could save 50¢ on every roll of toilet paper.
“Do not store up for yourselves,” but surely Jesus didn’t mean being prepared for a rainy day, right? Could it be possible that our treasures are the most mundane things of all?