“No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk 16:13).
Jesus consistently emphasizes the priority of making God primary in our lives. Anything that moves into the slot of preeminence before God is idolatrous. Anything, even family, as we heard a few days ago. We cannot have two firsts, because either we will “hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.” This balancing act is not an easy discipline.
It becomes especially challenging when we look at mammon, money, or material wealth. Many of us seek our security in having a home, insurance policies, savings, retirement plans, market investments. Setting up this security is often considered prudent. The problem is when material security becomes the foundation of our life, our fulfillment, our god.
This has certainly influenced the Church at times with movements governed by a prosperity gospel. The approach to a faith life that is not so much building up a relationship with our loving God and Father, but one of seeking God as a holy investor. There is a perspective offered on verses such as the Parable of the Sower (cf. Mark 4, Matthew 13, and Luke 8) in which the primary intent in giving is to reap a financial return of ten, twenty, or a hundredfold. God certainly wants us to be good stewards, and he will indeed bless us and wants us to be generous and cheerful with our giving, but again, if in our giving the primary intent is to receive more of our treasure, we are serving Mammon and not God.
Following are two scriptural verses and two Church Father quotes that may help us to see that in giving away and not accumulating the material, thus trusting in God for our security is the prudent path:
“If one of your kinsmen in any community is in need in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand to him in his need. Instead, you shall open your hand to him and freely lend him enough to meet his need” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:35).
“When giving to the poor, you are not giving him what is yours; rather, you are paying him back what is his” (St Ambrose of Milan, 340-339).
“If each one of us took only what is necessary for his sustenance, leaving what is superfluous for the indigent, there would be no distinction of rich and poor” (St Basil of Caesarea, 330-379).
Our reactions to the above can be a barometer as to whether we are putting gold first or God first. God is to be our source and our fundamental option. The blessing we receive, the hundredfold we seek, is to be measured in love, mercy, and generosity received and given. Pope Francis, in a 2013 address, expressed his concern “that some homeless people die of cold on the streets [and this] is not news. In contrast, a ten-point drop in the stock markets of some cities is a tragedy. A person dying is not news, but if the stock markets drop ten points it is a tragedy! Thus people are disposed of as if they were trash. Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times, we are no longer able to give a just value, which goes well beyond mere economic parameters” (Vatican Insider).
Do we place our trust, faith, and security in Mammon, or God? Do we build up treasure for ourselves at the expense of or indifference toward others or build up our treasure in heaven, aware of and reaching out to those who are in need? Were someone to observe us objectively, and closely would they say about us, “There goes someone that lives their life believing: In Gold we Trust.” Or would they say, “There goes someone that lives their life believing: In God we Trust?”