September 22, 2013
ORDINARY 25 (C)
You cannot serve both God and mammon. – Luke 16: 13
A certain preacher was distracted by a man who fell asleep during his sermon every Sunday, so he decided to do something about it. True to form, the man fell fast asleep. Whereupon the preacher said quietly, “Everyone who wants to go to heaven please stand up.” Everyone except the sleeping man stood up. When they sat down, the preacher shouted at the top of his voice, “Everyone who wants to go to hell stand up!” This startled the dozing man. Still half asleep, he jumped up, looked around to see what was going on, then said to the preacher, “I don’t know what we’re voting for, but it looks like you & I are the only ones in favor of it.”
The word “mammon” in today’s Gospel can be more inclusive than the word “money.” It can be construed to refer to anything less than God that we put at the center of our life. Here, Jesus is “raising our consciousness” in a fairly direct manner. Not content with a parable, He states boldly what should be obvious: “No servant can serve two masters.” I say “should be” because it is an uncomfortable truth we don’t like to face. We are geniuses at trying to have our cake & eat it too. We don’t like being told that the emperor has no clothes, & our egos make us emperors in our own mind.
We have to make a choice. Life does not permit us to get by without one. Just as we cannot stand with one foot on a skiff & the other on the dock, just as sure as gravity is a force we dare not ignore, even so must we choose between God & mammon.
I’m not just talking about materialism here, because in a certain sense Christianity is the most materialistic of all religions, thanks to the incarnation. Our faith teaches us a reverence for all matter as a gift from God. Ecology, respect for life, & stewardship are all forms of godly materialism. But there is a secular materialism that teaches us that God has nothing to do with the flesh, nothing to do with how we live & move & have our being. It is a reverence of matter for its own sake.
The problem with worshipping mammon is that it makes us impotent through a love of cheap things. It defines life so shallowly that it is no deeper than a bank account, or a sense of achievement in the work place. It tries to convince us that honor, love, obedience & friends are not a part of the plastic age. We must lose the spark in our eyes. We are commanded to live without imagination or vision, specifically the vision of God.
We hear a multitude of so-called “radical” solutions to the problems of racism, drug abuse, poverty, the plight of the elderly, & pollution (to name only a few). However, “radical” means root, getting down to the root of the problem. But because we worship mammon, they all turn out to be superficial, roots that stay on the surface & wither up & solve nothing. The only radical solution to avarice & exploitation is the very one that near-sighted social-engineers try to hide: a vision of God!
The film “Dead Poets Society” offers a commentary on all this. It points to the fact that ultimately the human spirit cannot be confined to the unimaginative, the banal, & the dead hand of conformity. But it also shows us that mammon is indeed a wrathful deity. Those who refuse to fall down & worship him can expect to be crushed. This is why Jesus couldn’t be tolerated. There is a sense in which it was mammon that put Jesus on the cross, , but Jesus tricked him & showed him up for what he is: a lazy, stuffed, blind God that in the end devours his worshippers.
Our Lord does not command us to be poor, but to have a vision of ourselves that transcends what we own or control, to possess & not to be possessed. The rich young man was asked to give up all that he owned, not because he was rich, but because he couldn’t imagine life without being rich. Money had made him impotent – incapable of action. What makes the distinction between God & mammon is not poverty or wealth, but the purpose behind them. Does poverty strip a person of his or her self-esteem? Then it is bad. Does it free him from himself? Then it is good. Does wealth enslave a person so that he cannot move without his portfolio? Then it is bad. Does it free him to use it to help others without an eye on tax deductions? Then it is good. What Jesus really offers is freedom. Mammon only drags us down. AMEN!