‘The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.’ Matthew 13:22
I rarely go into my attic, and for good reason. It’s a dark, dusty space strewn with fibreglass and cobwebs. What I had not realised, when I recently decided to convert the space, was that it was also full of ‘stuff’! Boxes and bags of toys and clothes, forgotten keepsakes and items that might come in handy one day – all shoved up into the darkness, out of sight and out of mind. There was so much to sort out that I very nearly closed the hatch and gave up the whole thing as a bad idea. Where have all these possessions come from? Is there any escape from the clutter that seeks to take over our lives?
When explaining the parable of the sower, Jesus describes the seed that fell among the thorns as the person who received the word, but was unfruitful because of the complexities of life – worries and wealth. Thankfully it is possible to avoid this trap, and instead be fruitful in our relationship with God.
As we turn our focus on ourselves in this week of studies, we are looking at the area of discipline called ‘simplicity’. It is not a popular or common practice, but it is nonetheless of great importance for the Christian life.
Day 1: Possession Obsession
‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.’ Matthew 6:22
While contrasting earthly possessions with heavenly treasure, Jesus made this curious comment about eyes being the lamp of the body and the need for them to be ‘good’. What did He mean by this? And what does it have to do with simplicity?
The English word ‘simplicity’ evolved from the Latin ‘simplex’ meaning ‘single’. In Jerome’s fourth-century translation of the Bible into Latin, this was the word he used here – ‘If your eye is single’.
To help us understand why your eye being single is a good thing, we need to consider what Jesus said next: ‘No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money’ (Matt. 6:24).
Imagine yourself in the position of serving two masters – not people who have the same goals and motives, but two people who are working in opposite directions with completely opposing agendas. This would not merely place you in a difficult position, but an impossible one. How could you truly serve either master while also serving the interests of the other? In the end you would have to choose between them.
It is similarly impossible to serve both God and money – indeed it is impossible to serve both God and any worldly possession, pleasure or pursuit. If we attempt it, we will be pulled in two directions and there is the potential that these things will steal our devotion and our love. It is as impossible to serve both God and worldly things as it is to focus your eye on two objects that are moving in opposite directions. Trying to lead such a duplicitous life is doomed to failure.
Simplicity, then, is removing that conflict, enabling us to focus on a single thing and so serve a single master. We could define this area of spiritual discipline as keeping our lives free from serving anything other than God.
Around 500 AD a young man named Benedict, who had tired of the trappings and complexities of life in Rome, decided to pursue the simple life of a monk. Many other young men joined him, similarly tired of Roman life, and soon the monastery of Monte Cassino was founded. The rule that Benedict established for this community has been the foundation for Christian monastic life ever since, and includes the control of food and clothing, and the prohibition of possessions.
Unfortunately, these rules did not succeed in keeping everyone focused solely on God. Instead they became rules without the foundation of a relationship with God, and over the years the monasteries sank into the worst depths of corruption.
It is a stark reminder that spiritual discipline must be built on our desire to love God, not just to tick off a list of religious accomplishments.