Imagine it’s winter. There’s no snow on the ground yet, but the air is bitter cold and the wind bites through all of your clothing. And you’re wearing a lot of clothing. You’re wearing four pairs of socks, sweatpants, jeans, three t-shirts, two sweaters, a down jacket, three pairs of gloves, two hats, and three scarves. These scarves are wrapped around your head to keep your nose from freezing off. Every pocket you have is stuffed with packaged food you don’t need to cook, and you’re carrying a bag full of cans and bottles to turn in for a few dollars. That’s just about everything you own, since you are homeless.
Now jump forward to summer. It’s 95 degrees and you’re in shorts, t-shirt, and sandals. You’re walking from the bridge you slept under to the soup kitchen but it’s a long trek and it’s even longer because you have to carry everything with you. Anything you leave behind will be stolen or thrown away. All those clothes you were wearing during the winter are too hot to wear now. That’s one bag. Since you don’t have many pockets any more, you’ve got another bag with food and water. By the time you’ve made it to the soup kitchen, you’re tired and sweating from lugging everything around.
One of the most oppressive things about homelessness is how little you can own if you don’t have a home. Without a home you can only own what you can carry with you. Anything you can’t carry with you might not be where you left it when you come back for it.
In much the same way, all of us are unable to own much of eternal merit unless we have a home to store it in. Not just any home will do either. Jesus tells us, “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. … For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:19–21). If we do not have a home in heaven, then we have nowhere to keep the merits of our prayers and our good works. We can cling tightly to a few of them, storing up these treasures on earth, and be seen as virtuous or kind by our fellow men. However, if we live this kind of spiritual homelessness, we can only keep hold of the virtues we are strong enough to bear on our own. When we try this, we quickly discover how very little this turns out to be. Even what little we can briefly hold onto slips quickly from our grasp on account of our pride. Luckily for us, God is generous with his grace. He has prepared for us a home in heaven, somewhere to store the treasures we receive from Him. If we cooperate with God in the Christian life, we do not need to fear losing our merits through the sin of pride, because we will have sought the praise of God instead of men and will receive our reward from God.
We don’t have to be a homeless wanderer moving with the cumbersome burden of virtues and merits we are clinging to as our own. Instead, we can be confident that our God-given treasures are stored in the room prepared for us by Jesus Christ, who exchanges our heavy and chafing burdens for an easy and light burden. Then we we will be free to walk with ease through this life, carrying only what we need for the journey, until we come to enjoy our treasures in the home God has ready and waiting for us.
Image: Camille Corot, Path Towards a House in the Countryside