I continue to read Dale Allison’s The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination.
Today I report on his dealing with Matthew 6:19-24.
In 19-21 we hear that we should accumulate wealth in heaven. This is for two reasons. First, common sense tells us that the wealth of this world is subject to decay and theft. Second, Jesus’ eschatological teaching reveals that there is a realm where entropy cannot touch wealth built up through good deeds.
In v. 24 we hear you have to put God before money, or else money (Mammon) will enslave you.
Allison does not think that in the context of Matthew’s gospel either passage teaches that Christians have to completely renounce money and property. After all, Matthew calls Joseph of Arimathea both rich and a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 27:57). But neither is wealth a sign of God’s favor. Rather, we have warnings about the danger of wealth and attachment to it.
The most interesting part of Allison’s treatment is what he says about the difficult verses that fall in between.
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23).
This reflects a pre-modern, pre-scientific theory of vision. The eye is not a window on the world; it is like a lamp that lights up the world. You might think of the headlights on a car that send out beams to light up what lies ahead. He cites Plato, Aristotle, the Hebrew Bible, other old Jewish writings, and Augustine. All of these seem to imagine that our eyes send out beams that light up the world.
Matthew’s Jesus associates light with God and darkness with the absence of God. His idea of hell is that it is darkness (8:12 and 22:13). So Allison sees a reason for putting these verses in between two statements about money.
“The person with the “healthy” eye is the one who, through generosity, thereby serves God instead of mammon (=money). The person with the “unhealthy” eye is the one who, because of selfishness, thereby serves mammon instead of God and stores up treasure only on the earth” (p. 145).
Matthew wants to lead us to self-examination. What fills me? Light or darkness? Is my eye healthy, or is it diseased? I find out by looking at my outward acts to see if they are open-handed and generous, or closed-fisted and selfish.