A guest who had traveled from afar once visited the saintly Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan zt”l, and was taken aback by the Rabbi’s simple living conditions. The home was lacking the most basic furnishings! When he relayed his surprise, the Chofetz Chaim asked him, “And where is your furniture? Why didn’t you bring it?” The guest replied with the obvious, “I’m just passing through here. I live quite a distance from here, and there I have many furnishings to decorate my home.” “I’m following the same practice,” responded the Chofetz Chaim. “In this world I’m just passing through. My real home is in the next world, and with the eternal treasures produced from my service of the Al-mighty I am furnishing that future home.”
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
-Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)
I know. This is pretty elementary. Most relatively new Christians are taught that what we have in the here and now is transitory while our true home and treasure lies with God.
Rabbi Dixler uses this principle in his commentary on last week’s Torah Portion, but adds that it’s not just living here temporarily that’s important, but our attitude about it.
Bilaam was hired to curse the Jewish nation, but was denied the ability to do so. In fact, he eventually formulated a number of blessings and praises, including “How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel!” (Numbers 24:5) The Jews were indeed dwelling in tents at the time, but the message was that they not only dwelt in tents, but their attitude was in tents. All the wealth and possessions they had, whatever “stuff” they collected, was understood for what it was — temporary, like a tent. What they really valued and focused on was their everlasting spiritual acquisitions in their service of the Al-mighty. (Sefer Taam V’Daas)
Of course, this is midrash and not necessarily absolute fact as far as the Children of Israel are concerned, but it is also long-established Jewish tradition and this tradition teaches a lesson.
But maybe not the lesson you are thinking about.
Let the faith of God be in you. For amen, I say to you, anyone who says to this mountain, “Be lifted up and moved into the middle of the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but rather believes that what he says will be done, so it will be for him as he has said. Therefore I say to you, all that you ask in your prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be so for you. And when you stand to pray, pardon everyone for what is in your heart against them, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive your transgressions. But as for you, if you do not pardon, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.
-Mark 11:22-26 (DHE Gospels)
This verse is used to fuel the “name it and claim it” theology, which seems to be a subset of the prosperity theology; a gross distortion of the intent of Jesus when he’s describing faith. Faith isn’t about greed and it isn’t about “magic tricks.” We see by the words of the Master in the latter portion of the quote, it’s about mercy, grace, and compassion.
It’s also about conditional forgiveness.
I thought God’s forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus and the grace of Christ our Lord was unconditional. I thought we couldn’t merit salvation or buy our way into Heaven. I thought it was a free gift. All I have to do is believe.
Sure. Except that’s not exactly what Jesus said, is it?
There seems to be a bit of craziness involved in some of the beliefs of the church (or at least some churches). If our treasures are stored in Heaven rather than on earth, and we are told everything here is temporary, then why are we so concerned with praying for “stuff” so we can get “stuff?” I don’t get it.
What’s more, we seem to see that while material “stuff” isn’t supposed to be such a big deal, people are. In fact, people are such a big deal to God that Jesus tells us we are only forgiven to the degree that we forgive others.
I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but it needs to be repeated from time to time.
According to midrash, the Israelites lived in tents realizing that their true hope was with God and not their physical possessions. When Jesus tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself” in Matthew 5:43 and Mark 12:31, he’s quoting what God said to the Israelites in Leviticus 19:18, so the lessons of Jesus are not disconnected from the understanding and faith of the ancient Israelites.
If you claim to have faith, what is your faith in? How far does that faith go? Is it dependent on what God gives you, or could your faith endure living in a tent as a homeless person or a homeless family? Does your love of other people only extend to how much stuff God gives you (so you have tangible proof of God’s love) or could you love your neighbor, even if you were destitute?
We tend to feel more forgiving when we believe God has forgiven us, but turn the equation completely around. Forgive others first. Grant people mercy, compassion, grace, and hope. Value human beings more than the crap you collect in your living room and your garage.
Then turn to God and ask Him to forgive you.
God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. How does God show love today? By giving us stuff? No. By how much you give your love to others because you love Him.
If you want to receive love and forgiveness, give them away first.