“For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Lk 12:34)
These words of Jesus shine a light on what it is that a given society values — what it treasures most, what tops its list of things most sought after?
A recently published book entitled “The Status Game” argues that the base line motivation for every one of us is to be better than the neighbor; i.e., to have status. When people defer to us, offer admiration or praise, that delivers the sought-after prize, recognition. Life accordingly is a series of games — a student to be the most popular in the class, the lawyer to become a partner, the academic to gain the most prestige. In this view, achieving superiority, winning the contest, is the motive behind all motivations.
This slant on human behavior doesn’t square with life as set out in the Scriptures, especially in the New Testament. There another incentivizer emerges as primary.
It perhaps can be best described as a form of loving trust, handing oneself over to the steadfast care of another. The patriarch Abraham, as described in the letter to the Hebrews, exemplifies this. He stakes his whole future not on acclaim, but on a promise, a person to person bond. When at God’s invitation he steps out into an unknown time and place, Abraham’s motivation is not so much the prospect of outshining his neighbor, but rather his loving trust that this God is will come through. What moves him to take this life-altering chance is not the prospect of prestige and status, but rather his confidence as grounded in his deep and trusting love.
In the same vein, Jesus mentions a servant who acts out of loyalty to his master. He is motivated not by the desire to move up in his employer’s estimation so much as by his loving connection to that master. Here Jesus is appealing to something more than competition, the desire to surpass somebody else. He’s zeroing in on the power of person-to-person response, on the profound bonding that arises out of heartfelt mutual esteem.
Vincent joins in this chorus against shallow motives. In a conference on humility he warns, “Be careful above all to banish all thoughts of pride, ambition, and vanity. These are the greatest enemies a missioner can have. As soon as they appear, he must rush upon them to uproot them and keep a close watch so as not to give them any opening.” (Vol 11, p. 46)
“Where your treasure is, there is your heart.” Both Abraham and Jesus’ faithful servant reveal the core of their treasure and it’s not, as that book on status would have it, one upmanship. It’s rather in the riches of personal loyalty, the prize of human connection, the overarching worth of trust between persons that goes far beyond the prize of who can outshine whom. In Jesus’ sight, the heart’s treasure is anchored in dependable love, rooted deeper than comparison or superiority/inferiority. Other-centeredness is its ground, selfless concern for the good of the other person. It’s this giving for the sake of the neighbor, this love-inspired generosity that Jesus models in his life and death and pours out to us in his Spirit.