A Secret Stash

Christ teaches us to store up real treasure for the afterlife

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Faith

Valuable stashes from antiquity, like the Frome Hoard comprised of 52,503 ancient Roman coins found in Somerset, England, in 2010, have one common feature. All were buried with obvious intent to retrieve them at some future date. Maybe the threat of a wartime invasion, a revolution, or an economic collapse induced some wealthy aristocrat to bury precious coins for his retirement. Then because he forgot or didn’t leave a will before his unexpected demise, he failed to leave his heirs a treasure map with the hoard’s exact location.

The Egyptian pharaohs made extraordinary attempts to take their wealth with them beyond the grave, as evidenced by massive pyramidal tombs rigged with elaborate traps and pitfalls to foil thieves. But over the centuries, grave robbers stole much of their gold and silver. Providing for retirement is one thing, but storing precious possessions for use in the afterlife is quite another.

We still do it, but in more sophisticated ways. Super-wealthy folk can build shiny, towering buildings named after them, like Rockefeller Center. Bill Gates’s foundation will be around for a long time. We commoners name our newborns after ourselves and hope to be remembered by willing accumulated assets to our offspring. Authors crave name recognition on library shelves, as if their creative writings, when read, will resurrect them from the dead. William Shakespeare has thereby been “living” among us for 500 years on stage and screen. We Americans built an eternal flame for JFK, burning 24/7 at Arlington Cemetery, that we hope keeps his memory alive forever.

All such memorials, after the passage of time, prove to be exercises in futility. Eventually not even a trace of such things shall remain.

Christ came to teach us how to effectively store up real treasure for the afterlife. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up rich treasure in heaven (Matt 6:19-20).

The poignant novel Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal, written by Lutheran pastor Lloyd C. Douglas, portrays a brain surgeon who accrues much spiritual wealth by practicing secret bedside charity for his patients. He inspires them to get well by investing money for them in any reasonable business they have in mind. But they must promise never to try to pay him back and not to tell anyone until after his death. If they do, the investment becomes a loan that must be paid back. His charities are to be kept secret all his life, even from his loving wife, so as to accrue heavenly reward. His funeral wake is packed with grateful beneficiaries, astonishing his widow by all their accounts.

When you give to the needy, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their full reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matt 6:3).

What are simple ways to do what that fictional surgeon did in our own daily rounds? A smile to a stranger walking through a local park, a personable chat with a grocery clerk, a calm negotiation with your spouse, a gracious tone of voice with a bill collector, a handwritten thank-you note, a phone call to a lonely senior citizen; many are the ways to do surprising, random acts of kindness, all while expecting nothing of this world in return.

Secret giving can be difficult. One reason is that we crave recognition for all our good deeds. When we receive some ribbon or award, we cling to that fleeting honor as if it were crediting us with eternal life. Then we display it for all the world to see, counting on a nod or smile to make our day. But public recognition robs us.

We know from a basic principle of physics, Newton’s Third Law of Motion, that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. But when that law is frustrated, I believe it expresses itself metaphysically. Our refusing to accept any sensate payback for charity induces Mother Nature to balance our account with a secret stash. Unreciprocated giving thus credits us with treasure in heaven where thieves cannot enter and steal.

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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