“You cannot serve God and mammon”

Often our priorities are messed up, as Jesus explains in Matthew 6:24-34.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“No one 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.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

It took me some time to puzzle this reading out. At first the meat of the reading appeared to be the latter section. But then it seemed to be about the first section. And then there was that last sentence, “Sufficient for a day is its own peril.” How does that relate to the material above it?

I thought I knew what “mammon” is. I didn’t. A search revealed it means money, wealth, or material possessions. And there was the key to coming to terms with this reading.

Also key to understanding it is realizing who Jesus was talking to. He was talking to His disciples, although as a community of faith we need to generalize this to ourselves as well. Yet imagine how the disciples were living their lives. Once used to making a living, feeding and clothing and housing their families, suddenly they found themselves moving from village to village without a source of income and worried about barely feeding and closing and housing themselves. And Jesus told them, your concern is no longer about the material world, it’s about the spiritual world. Your Father in heaven knows what you need and He will provide it. Focus on the road ahead; it is perilous enough — be faithful to God and He will provide.

That’s the condensed version, of course.

And we can relate to this. We live in a material world, one that expects us to forget about not only our spiritual needs but those of others, to focus not on the needs of others but just on ourselves. And that’s the opposite of what Jesus teaches on his journeys through the holy land. He teaches us to care for – to love – one another. To feed the hungry, to care for the sick, to protect the weak, to enable the disabled, to home the homeless, to empathize with the prisoner, and on and on. And in this reading, Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow. Nature shows us that the Father will take care of our everyday needs. And He already knows what those needs are.

If we are to serve God as many of us say we will, Jesus tells us, we cannot also serve money, wealth, and material possessions, because we cannot serve both. Jesus once told a wealthy man that even if he obeyed all the commandments, if he wanted to gain heaven he needed to sell all of possessions and give them to the poor, then follow Him. This reading echoes that sentiment. Money, wealth, material possessions – worrying about tomorrow instead of relying on the Father – will get in the way of our attaining eternal life. No one can serve two masters: You cannot serve God and mammon. Which will it be?

 

 

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