Saturday of Trinity 9: What’s So “Either/Or” about Mammon?

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“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

What’s so “either/or” about mammon?

This is a different question than “What’s so dangerous about mammon?” This question can be answered easily with all sorts of biblical references.

There’s Jesus’ words about the rich man: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” This was in the context of the rich man asking Jesus what he must do to enter eternal life. Jesus said to give up everything to the poor, take up his cross, and follow Him. The rich man couldn’t do it, because he didn’t want to give up his riches. Here, riches represents love of this world, the heaven on earth people dream they can possess. Ultimately the rich man didn’t really believe there was an eternal life, a heaven. He “trusted in riches.” To do what? To create his heaven on earth – he never really believed in a heaven on heaven.

Then there’s Jesus’ words about covetousness: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” The danger here, perhaps, is pride, the status one derives from having lots of stuff. Or else it’s that phantasmic illusion we’ve referenced several times when it comes to covetousness. Covetousness animates desire and projects phantasms of an alternate existence. Again it’s similar to the “heaven on earth” temptation referenced above. Getting that new car will give you the phantasmic existence portrayed in that commercial.

Finally there’s St. Paul’s words about money: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Here, the danger is what love of money leads us to do in other areas. It leads us to attack others, hoard wealth, not relieve debtors, not be hospitable, not be generous or liberal, and that does not reflect a God who wants us to faithfully use His riches for debtors.

So, there is much support for the principle that money is dangerous. But what is the “either/or” aspect of it? In those above three cases, the situations described are not “either/or.”

There are rich men who have riches but have no thought that they are building a heaven on earth. Their riches are kept from being dangerous, as they use it to help others, finance charity, care for their children, and so on.

There are rich men who have no desire to make more and more money. They receive their money as a fruit of their labors. Their goal is love of their labors and use of the talents God has given them, not the accumulation of wealth.

And there are rich men who have no love for money, so there’s no trace of nastiness in their dealings with other people. By contrast, there can be poor people who have such a love for money they in fact do become nasty. (And in fact, in both those other cases above, the poor can be possessed of mammon’s dangers as readily as the rich.)

But there is an either/or aspect of mammon Jesus speaks of. What is it?

Perhaps it’s that concept we’ve been alluding to, that the “rules” of mammon are incompatible with the “rules” of God. God is about limitless abundance and goodness. There is no scarceness of His grace, mercy, love, and life. He fills all things. He is all in all. He gives without measure. Seventy times seven. “[P]ressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.” This is our Lord.

By contrast the rules of mammon arise from economic scarcity. (It’s interesting that the word for “steward” in Greek is the word from which “economy” comes – “oikomenos.”) While it’s a communist misconception that an economy is a “zero sum gain” situation – so that if one person gains another must be losing; therefore the two need to be equalized – it’s also simply a fact that the economy is rooted in the principle that there is a limit to resources.

Jesus talks about “serving” mammon. The one who “serves” the principle of limited resources doesn’t see the abundance that is possible with his Lord, a Lord who over and over again – particularly in the Trinity Gospels so far! – teaches limitless goodness and grace. He takes four loaves and feeds four thousand, with baskets left over. He wants His disciples to be about giving – they as true prophets bear fruit after all! He teaches the proper use of “true riches,” to be about giving debt relief. He wants parties for the finding of lost sons, coins, and lambs. He fills nets so full of fish the boats sink.

What a contrast to the rich man inaugurating the Trinity season – in the story of the rich man and Lazarus – is a big no go; he can’t even feed the beggar at his gates. He served mammon.

Who served God? Well no greater example is there than Jesus Himself, who in the two action Gospels so for this season caused abundance to happen – fish, bread, and more fish. What’s going on with fish? From Ezekiel: “And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes.”

As explained in Revelation: “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.”

Those who reign in the everlasting home are they who live by other rules than those of mammon. They live by the abundance of grace and life flowing from the Lamb, by the Holy Spirit. These are they who reign, for if they were faithful in what is least, they will be entrusted with heavenly riches.

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