By John W. Nielson
The song Master of the House provides some moments of comedic relief in Les Miserables. Thénardier is the innkeeper who, along with his wife, has been “caring” for young Cossette. The Thénardiers live lives full of greed and selfishness. They are ordinary working class people who blame society for their sufferings. They care nothing for the lives of others and only care about themselves and acquiring money, whether by cheating customers at their inn or robbing people. If you have seen the show, then you also know that this song contains some objectionable elements. So what in the world is this song doing in our sermon series? The answer lies in the central supposition of the lyrics and the attributes that are on display in this song and in these characters. These qualities are all too common and can be found in the lives of more than just the Thénardiers. They are also qualities that are challenged by the claims of the gospel: Selfishness, greed and pride. The song, Master of the House, not only highlights these negative qualities but also revolves around the central issue of lordship. Who is, in fact, “The Master of the House?” Who is the master of your life?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us about greed, possessions and our attitudes towards them. He also teaches us about lordship. A central question of the text is, “What master will we serve?”
Hear the Word of the Lord from The Gospel of Matthew 6:19-24:
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Here in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus talks about treasures and priorities. Ultimately, it is a question about what we value. And these priorities and values are directly connected to the question of lordship. Whom or what will you serve? To whom or what will you give your ultimate allegiance?
Five Lessons From Jesus
There are five main aspects to the teaching of Jesus in this text. The first is this: Don’t invest in things that won’t last. Simply put, earthly treasures are insecure and corruptible. The material things of life, cars, homes, possessions, these are decaying, moth and rust destroy. How quickly does the new car smell fade? How quickly does it receive its first dent or scratch? How quickly does the latest gadget become obsolete? These material things can also be stolen or lost, and often are. And even if they are not, we will not depart this world with any of them in tow. As someone once said, you never see a hearse pulling a U-haul! Jesus commands us to not make these types of things our treasure.
Instead we should: Invest in things that last forever. Heavenly treasures are secure and incorruptible. There are investments that we can make that do have eternal reward. This is not simply an acknowledgement that our ultimate reward is eternity in God’s presence, but also that we can choose to give our time, talent and treasure to things that will matter in the end. The only things that really fit this bill are investments in relationships and in the mission of the Kingdom.
The Thénardiers are certainly examples of people who have made earthly treasure their sole objective. They are motivated by greed, the desire for more. They care only for what they can posses. They run their inn in such a way to take advantage of every patron and pilfer every person they can. “Charge them for the lice / Extra for the mice /Two per cent for looking in the mirror twice / Here a little slice / There a little cut / Three per cent for sleeping with the window shut . . .” and on it goes.
The Thénardiers “care” for young Cossette only for the money that Fantine sends them and when Valjean arrives they are eager to give her up for the sum or 1,500 Francs. Years later, they roam the streets of Paris begging, conning people, and robbing them. After the fall of the barricade, Thénardier is in the sewer robbing the bodies of the dead. And in their final scene at the wedding of Marius and Cosette, they try to sneak out with the silver from the feast. Yes, indeed, the Thénardiers are trying to store up for themselves treasures on earth. It is not wonder that their character suffers as well.
The Sermon on the Mount tells us why . . .
The third truth Jesus teaches is this: Priorities create passion. Jesus says it this way, “Where your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” This may be backwards from the way we would naturally think. It makes more sense that what our passions are would influence our priorities, and I suppose at one level they do. But Jesus flips the order and affirms that whatever you make your actual priority, in other words, the things to which you give your time and money, these things will become your passion, your priority, and, ultimately, your lord. If we want to have the right heart, the right passion, the right priorities, then we need to spend our resources in those areas.
The fourth truth Jesus teaches is this: Guard what you let in. In verses 22-23, we hear these words, “Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!” Our priorities will both reflect the things that we focus on as well as be shaped by them. The things we see and hear will impact our values and will impact the question of whom or what is truly the Lord of our lives. Focus on things of the light, and your life is filled with light. Focus on things of the darkness, and your life is characterized by the darkness. We must carefully examine the quality and character of our entertainments, our preoccupations, and our relationships and ask ourselves how they are forming our heart.
We see this lesson in the life of Thénardier as well. In the song, “Dog Eat Dog” sung by Thénardier in the sewer, we hear him sing these words: “I raise my eyes to see the heavens / And only the moon looks down / The harvest moon shines down!” The greed that has consumed his life causes his heart to be hardened to the point that he believes God to be dead and sees nothing of the divine when he looks up into the heavens.
The fifth truth Jesus teaches is this: Be totally devoted to God. We cannot serve two masters. In the end one will win out. One will have your ultimate allegiance. You can’t serve God and anything else.
Two people can’t be in charge! It doesn’t work in organizations, in business, in sports, or in any aspect of life. Most things fail when there are two people trying to be the boss. Only one person can receive our ultimate loyalty. And, as we have already stated, You can’t serve God and anything else.
But Oh How People Try!
People want to serve God . . . a little.
People want to be in the Kingdom but still keep a foot in the world.
People want to have God . . . on the side.
People want to love God but tolerate sin.
Have you heard those “watered-down” hymn titles?
- Some to Jesus, I Sorta Surrender
- I Have Decided to Follow Jesus… When it’s Convenient
- Lord Jesus, I Long to be Partially Whole
Are we sending mixed messages to God? Do we say we want to serve God, but give most of our time and treasure to other things? Do we profess that Jesus is Lord, but then live like we are in charge of our decisions and possessions?
Are will sending mixed messages to others? Would those around you be confused as to the ultimate values and priorities of your life? Do those closest to us really know where our heart is and who we are serving?
The question comes down to one of Lordship. Is Jesus really Lord of your life? Is Jesus the Master of your house? The song, “Master of the House” is sung by Thénardier who brags that he is in fact Master of the House, the center of attention, the most important person in the room. Oh, I don’t think we would ever say that about ourselves. But do we live like we believe it to be true?
A Fully Devoted Follower
May it be our deep desire to live as a fully devoted follower of Jesus. We do that when we worship and serve God alone. We do that when we maintain the right priorities. We do that when we don’t send mixed messages, to God or to those around us.
If that is our desire, then we must take several steps in response to this text.
We must confront out tendencies to give our time and attention to acquiring. If we are honest, we may be “storing up treasures on earth.” Will we prayerfully ask God to show us where we have bought into a culture of consumerism, one that we see in the life, actions and perspective of Thénardier.
On the other side, where do we need to evaluate how much of our energy, efforts, and resources are we giving to eternal values? How are we really “storing up for ourselves treasures in heaven?”
Lastly, have we dealt with the critical question of lordship? Who is really in charge of our life? Is it our self, or is Jesus truly Lord? Stewardship, how we view our resources, ultimately is a matter of Lordship. So to truly be a follower of Jesus, to have the right view of finances and possessions, to give ourselves to things that matter, we must answer the fundamental question . . . Who is the real Master of your house?