By Heather Judd
“In the living room the voice-clock sang, Tick-tock, seven o'clock, time to get up, time to get up, seven o'clock! as if it were afraid that nobody would. The morning house lay empty. The clock ticked on, repeating and repeating its sounds into the emptiness. Seven-nine, breakfast time, seven-nine!
“In the kitchen the breakfast stove gave a hissing sigh and ejected from its warm interior eight pieces of perfectly browned toast, eight eggs sunnyside up, sixteen slices of bacon, two coffees, and two cool glasses of milk.”
A page into Ray Bradbury’s short story “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains,” it is revealed why no one hears the clock’s wake-up call or comes to eat the cheery breakfast. The automated house is the last structure standing in a city where everyone and everything else has been obliterated by nuclear devastation.
The imagery of post-apocalyptic destruction has become commonplace in movies as well as science fiction stories. We see it, shiver, and sigh, but it is hard for our hearts to hear the truth such images of desolation preach: All earthly things have no value unless they are used.
Money in your pocket, food on the shelves, and clothing in the closet do not have any value in themselves. This is the reality we intuit for a moment when our stomach clenches at the image of deserted civilizations. Homes without people to live in them? Worthless. Books without people to read them? Worthless. Art without people to appreciate it? Worthless.
It is not that saving things for a future time and use is essentially bad, but that we are inclined to confuse the potential worth of things with their actual worth. When the stock market crashes and inflation runs rampant, we are shocked into realizing that our stash of money does not have an inherent value. Similarly, stored food can spoil and goods be destroyed.
Recently I have helped with several cleaning out and downsizing projects. Such endeavors inevitably reveal how things that once were treasured keepsakes can become burdens as they are kept out of a sense of obligation. Like Silas Marner or Ebenezer Scrooge, we hoard earthly goods, convinced that they have value in themselves. We, too, must learn the lesson they did--namely, that human relationships have real value and worldly wealth is the sham.
We must never lose sight of the fact that money and goods are meant to be invested. The word invest comes from a Latin term that literally means “to put clothes on.” Our money and possessions are meant to wrap themselves around our neighbors to provide for their needs. It bears saying again: Unless earthly treasures are used and enjoyed by human beings, they are worthless. Any saving or storing that does not have a human beneficiary in mind is pointless.
This is not a pleasant pill for those of us who embrace conservative financial principles. I would be uneasy if I did not have a savings account for emergency expenses. It is not wrong to have such rainy-day savings, but it is worth remembering the admonition of the writer to the Hebrews to “keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).
Honestly assessing what we fear, love, and trust above all things is uncomfortable. I might convince myself that I don’t love money more than God, but can I honestly say that I fear God more than I fear being penniless? Or that I trust God more than I trust my predictable income and my savings account?
Christ taught us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” but what we really want to ask is “Give us this day a comfortable cushion in the bank account, increasing returns on our investments, and plentiful retirement savings.” God knows, though, that the more we feel assured of tomorrow, the less we feel a need to rely on Him today. When we feel as though we have our material needs comfortably covered for the future, we are less likely to recall with poignant joy how His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:23).
But if all earthly goods are inherently worthless, we must also remember that all human beings are inherently valuable. Unlike everything else in this world, human beings are created for eternity. Senile, preborn, obese, anorexic, socially awkward, proudly boastful, genius, or brain-dead, all human beings are of rich, unvarying value.
We sometimes speak of human life as priceless, but this is not accurate. If you want to know the value of a human life, look to the Man hanging on a tree, dying in agony. That human life, bearing the sins of the world, is the price of each human life. It was the price of all humanity, but just as important, it was the price of you.
As we ponder the cross, Christ’s admonition in the Sermon on the Mount takes on a new light: “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” (Matt. 6:19-21).
Your heart was bought back with blood by the Son of God. It is worth so much to Him that He gives it no less than the greatest treasure, His own presence now in His Word and Sacraments and eternally in heaven. It is true that His words are righteous Law, condemning our earthly greed, but they are also sweet Gospel, promising this wondrous truth: “Where I, Christ, your treasure, am, there your heart will be also.” Claimed by Christ in Baptism and fed by Him in His Supper, your heart, mind, soul, and body are united with Him Who is worthy above all.
Heather Judd is currently a sister, daughter, and teacher in a classical, Lutheran school in Wyoming. The last of these vocations demonstrates the divine sense of irony since she (a) was homeschooled for her entire K-12 education, (b) only became a classical education enthusiast after earning her B.A. in education, (c) attended just about every denomination except Lutheran growing up, and (d) had never been to Wyoming before moving there for the teaching call. When she is not spending time in the eccentric world of middle school students, she enjoys reading, writing, acting, baking, playing organ, and pondering the mysteries of theology, physics, and literature.
Image: "The moneychanger and his wife" by Marinus van Reymerswaele, c. 1538