First Reading: Amos 8:4-7
Second Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-8
Gospel: Luke 16:1-13
Jesus tells us in the Gospel today tells us the servant who is trustworthy in small matters is trustworthy in great ones and the servant who cannot be trusted in small matters cannot be trusted in great ones. Most of us know from human experience that this saying is certainly true. Employers tend to put new employees who they think may have some special potential to work in a smaller project to determine some of their abilities before entrusting them with greater responsibilities. When we meet someone new and enter into friendship with them, usually our inclination is to have smaller engagements with that person until we come to understand that we can trust them to allow that person deeper into our lives and personal affairs.
Jesus, however, is taking this very human reality a step further to explain to us a far more real and more serious kind of trust. Once again this week, we hear the use of the word “hate” in the Gospel in that Semitic sense, telling us that no man can serve two masters, no one can truly do the bidding of both. Jesus is using the example of the less-than honest steward to show not that we should be dishonest, but that we should be prudent in our business with the things of this world, and not overly attached to them.
You cannot serve two masters, Jesus declares to his followers. At the conclusion of today’s Gospel we hear a phrase that is often repeated in religious, and even sometimes within popular culture. It is enough of an important biblical phrase that it is frequently repeated as a regular antiphon in the cycle of the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church, during Vespers or Evening Prayer. “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” What is actually meant by this? And why does the Church place so much stock in this statement?
Most people who read this passage think that Mammon simply refers to money or wealth. Money or wealth is a very clear part of what Mammon is-or at least what it can be, indeed St. Paul tells us that the “love of money is the root of all evil.” (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10) However, wealth or money isn’t the only thing that Jesus is talking about when he speaks of Mammon. It seems to be a common mistake, because a few years ago the popular movie Son of God used the word money in place of Mammon when recounting today’s Gospel.
The Church has always interpreted Mammon to mean an undue and inappropriate attachment to the things of this world and the accumulation of those things, whether those things be money and wealth, or our material possessions, or our work, or our hobbies, or our success and the worldly pleasures that come with it. People can become attached to the things of the world in a way that actually takes away from their relationship with God. People can become addicted to their Hobbies or pleasurable things, and obsessions with things which in and of themselves are not evil can lead to the occasion of sin and to sin itself. There are all kinds of things that I enjoy which in and of themselves are not sinful- Sports is one example, I am a former radio sportscaster (I did this in college), and I love sports, especially this time of the year. But there was a time in my life when I came to see that I was becoming so consumed by the world of sports that I wasn’t being terribly concerned about the things that were really important, and I needed an attitude adjustment provided by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus isn’t telling us that we should not provide for our families, or that we should not love and share with our friends. He is not telling us that we can’t have “nice things” and that we can’t enjoy the good things in life like our favorite sports or our favorite hobbies, or enjoying our work and being satisfied with and finding fulfillment in it. If you believe Jesus is telling us that, that’s a heresy for another homily.
What Jesus is telling us is similar to what St. Paul told the Corinthians in his first epistle to them, that “the fashion [or the form] of this world is passing away.” (cf. 1 Cor. 7:31) All of the things that we may accumulate in this life, all of the treasure, all of the earthly goods, all of the pleasures of this world and this life, all of these things are passing away. We cannot take them with us to meet God, they are of no concern to Him. As Paul tells Timothy later in his first letter to him “ we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out (cf 1 Tim. 6:7).”
We can choose to serve the things of this world which are passing away and which leave us nothing in the end, or we can choose to serve God and do his work and his will and reap the benefits from doing so that are eternal and will never pass away.