Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Mammon vs. God, Serving Two Masters
Volume 5 No. 308 October 9, 2015
II. This Week's Featured Articles

What is Mammon?
The word mammon comes from the Greek word mammonas. Similar root words exist in Hebrew, Latin, Aramaic, Chaldean and Syriac. They all translate to "money, wealth, and material possessions."

In biblical culture the word mammon often carried a negative connotation. It was sometimes used to describe all lusts and excesses: gluttony, greed, and dishonest worldly gain. Ultimately, mammon described an idol of materialism, which many trusted as a foundation for their world and philosophy. While the King James Version retains the term Mammon in Matthew 6:24, other versions translate the Greek as "money," "wealth," or "riches."

The city of Babylon (Revelation 18), with all its avarice and greed, is a description of a world given over to the spirit of Mammon. Some scholars cite Mammon as the name of a Syrian and Chaldean god, similar to the Greek god of wealth, Plutus.

Just as Wisdom is personified in Proverbs 1:21–33, Mammon is personified in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13. Jesus' words here show a powerful contrast between the worship of the material world and the worship of God. Later, writers such as Augustine, Danté (The Divine Comedy), Milton (Paradise Lost), and Spenser (The Faerie Queene) used personifications of Mammon to show the insidious nature of materialism and its seduction of humanity.

Worship of mammon can show up in many ways. It isn't always through a continual lust for more money. When we envy others' wealth, are anxious over potentially unmet needs, disobey God's directives about the use of wealth, or fail to trust God's love and faithfulness, our thinking is out of balance concerning material wealth.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches about our relationship to material goods. He says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth. . . . But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . . . No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money [mammon]" (Matthew 6:19-24).

The apostle Paul writes of the godly perspective toward mammon: "godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Timothy 6: 6-10).

Solomon writes of the futility of chasing after mammon: "Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless" (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Lust of any kind is insatiable, no matter how much time or effort is poured into the pursuit of the object of lust.

In Luke 16:14–15, Jesus rebukes those who refused to hear His admonition to choose God over mammon: "The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, 'You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God's sight.'"

The parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) is the story of a man who lives to increase his wealth yet in the end he loses his soul because he "is not rich toward God" (verse 21). Mark 4:19 warns of the deceitfulness of mammon and its ability to "choke the Word, making it unfruitful."

Mammon cannot produce peace in us, and it certainly cannot produce righteousness. A love of money shows we are out of balance in our relationship to God. Proverbs 8:18 speaks of true, lasting riches: "With me [Wisdom] are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity." Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:19-34 to not worry about our physical needs, about houses or clothes or food, but to "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (verse 33).

Source: © Copyright 2002-2019 Got Questions Ministries - All Rights Reserved.

Serving Two Masters

by Richard T. Ritenbaugh

Scripture: Matthew 6:24

No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
- Matthew 6:24(ASV)

Most people who are familiar with the Bible are aware of this statement made by Jesus during His Sermon on the Mount. This teaching on the inadvisability of trying to serve two masters comes at the end of a line of comparisons between two major elements of life. Earlier, He had spoken about two different kinds of treasure, the earthly kind and the heavenly kind. Then He mentioned the good eye and the bad eye, or perhaps it would be clearer to call them the focused ("single," KJV) eye and the confused eye, which illustrate a person's outlook on his life. Obviously, Jesus is trying to help us see the dichotomy between God's way and the way of this world, man's way, or Satan's way, however we may wish to look at it.

In this verse, He moves on to the human will, telling us that it is impossible to give full allegiance to more than one entity, whether it be a family member, a boss, a cause, or even football teams! As He says, one of them will always be slighted in some way. One's true loyalty will soon be revealed when circumstances conspire to force a choice between them. At the fish-or-cut-bait moment, we will choose to give our time and attention to the one that we really love, and the other we will "hate" by comparison.

As a native of the Steel City, I am a Pittsburgh Steeler fan and always have been. Yet, I have lived in Charlotte since 1992 and have been a fan of the Panthers since the team's first NFL game in 1995. I know a great deal about both clubs, watch most of their games, and avidly follow their player acquisitions and moves. It is good that the Steelers are an AFC team, while the Panthers are an NFC team, so they rarely play each other. But what happens when they do? There is no question: I root for the Steelers. My choice shows that I "love" the Steelers and "hate" the Panthers; I am "loyal" to the black and gold and "despise" the black, Panther blue, silver, and white. In such a situation, I cannot cheer for both.

In the last phrase, Jesus makes it clear that the choice often comes down to God on the one hand and "Mammon"- a word that denotes wealth and possessions - on the other. True, His audience, mostly Jews, had and still have a reputation for pursuing wealth overmuch, but His true audience is everyone. We all want more things, and we sometimes go to extreme measures to get them. When faced with the decision of following God or following the money, too many pick the latter, and in doing so, reveal our true loyalties.

He desires His disciples, therefore, to take note: The true Christian puts God first in everything. If a promotion at work means that a Christian will have to work on the Sabbath or blur some of his principles, he needs to choose God and turn down the promotion. If he can avoid a heavy tax assessment if he fudges the numbers a little on his 1040, he should choose God and submit an honest return. If he finds a wallet filled with cash, he must choose God and return it to its owner. In every case in which we must decide between obedience to God and gaining for the self, God must be our constant choice.

While this may seem somewhat onerous, this kind of total devotion and commitment is what God demands. Jesus is also the one who said, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62), and "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). Even in the verse under discussion, Jesus speaks of "serving . . . masters," which is an allusion to slavery. But we can gladly choose to serve God, the most gracious and beneficent of masters.

Source: The Berean

Serving One Master

by David Sellery

Gospel: Luke 16:1-13

Jesus reminds us over and over what our priorities must be. We have been saved by the blood of Christ. His saving grace is a gift outright. Baptism makes us Christians, but only if we live in his love. If we don't, we're really not Christians; we're just baptized pagans… masquerading as Christians. To be a Christian means to follow Christ. It's as simple as that. We must take up our cross and follow him, knowing that at the very least our faith will cost us time, treasure and convenience… knowing too that down the centuries it has cost countless Christians a steady stream of blood, sweat and tears.

To serve one Master, to carry the cross, means to put down the iPad, the five-iron and the remote. We need not throw them away. But we must understand that all the things the world values are potential distractions. And we must treat them accordingly. Which is why we must know our priorities… loving God and neighbor… rejoicing always in the Lord… building his kingdom… serving the least among us… witnessing Christ's love in the world. We must develop habits of virtue, reflexes of holiness. We must leave no room for sin, filling our souls from the bottomless fount of God's grace. We must seal up the avenues of temptation and open our hearts to the countless opportunities for goodness. We must give and forgive: humbly serving one Master… Almighty God, in three divine persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It's very easy to write that all down, packing it into one paragraph. Living it, packing it into one lifetime is a very different story. That's where faith comes in. In Christ, we know we always have instant, expert help only a prayer away. The Father who made us, the Son who saved us, the Holy Spirit who inhabits our every cell… God is with us always. His love is never rationed. He has not rigged the game against us. He does not want us to fail. He wants us safely home with him. His advice is simple, direct and effective: In euphoric success, serve the Lord. In confusion, serve the Lord. In disappointment, serve the Lord. In failure after failure, serve the Lord. In despair, serve the Lord. That is the glory of serving our one Master. In God there is no confusion, no disappointment, no failure, no despair. There is only his love and all the gifts of his love… faith, hope, courage, wisdom, serenity.

Our Master knows our limitations. He knows our potential. He does not demand we produce results. He gives us no quotas for prayer or good works. Our Master loves us unconditionally, in our sins and in our foolishness. We are the Master's masterpiece, the product of his love. He delights in us, asking only that our lives witness his love, praising the Father, following the Son, answering the Holy Spirit. Praising God is not a divine ego trip. It is practical advice aimed at aligning our lives with our Master's purpose, steering us towards earthly serenity and eternal happiness. Paul tells us: “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” That's the kind of Master we have. There never was and never will be another… never petty, ever patient, always loving. Thank you, Master. We love you.

God love us!

Where's Your Treasure?

By Alyce M. McKenzie

Gospel: Luke 12:16-20

This parable of the Rich Farmer is unique to Luke, but its spirit shows up in Jesus' teaching about treasures in heaven versus treasures on earth in Matthew (6:19-21), and in the story of the wealthy man's encounter with Jesus recounted in all three gospels (Mt 19:16-30; Mk 10:17-31; Lk 18:18-30). The Christian's attitude toward possessions is an important theme in Luke.

In the set-up to this parable, a man asks Jesus to settle a dispute with his brother over their inheritance. Jesus changes the subject from possessions to one's attitude toward them. His parable undercuts our habit of equating possessions with life. The parable illuminates the man's inward life through a soliloquy, one of Luke's favorite ways of expressing a person's motivations and decisions (12:17-19). In several of Luke's parables the protagonist comes to a turning point (Prodigal Son, Dishonest Steward, Unjust Judge) and decides to take a different course of action. This turning point is expressed in the soliloquy. But here the rich man's words to himself express his decision to continue on his present course of accumulating more resources without sharing them. His expectation is that his comfortable life, lived without thought of the suffering of others, will continue, only better organized, with a more secure future.

There is no conversion or change of course here to propel the plot forward. In this respect, this parable is like the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The man's own death, which, we are told, will happen this same evening, intervenes with appalling swiftness.

This is the only parable in Luke in which God directly addresses a character. And what God says is this: "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (12:20).

The theme of appropriate preparation for Christ's return is prominent in several other parables from the synoptic gospels. They include the Ten Bridesmaids or the Closed Door (Mt 25:1-12; Lk 13:25), the Entrusted Money (Mt 25:14-28; Lk 19:12-24), and the Great Feast (Mt 22:1-14; Lk 14:16-24).

In Luke, three other parables besides this one deal explicitly with preparation. The Rich Man and Lazarus addresses how to prepare (or not) for the reversal of fortunes to come in the next life. The Dishonest Steward and the Entrusted Money deal with how to prepare (or not) for a coming encounter with an authority figure. It is interesting that all four of these parables of preparation have money as a theme. We will discuss these others in due course, but for now, it's worth asking the question. We can't be sure what it was about Luke's setting and audience that made this theme necessary. Certainly it had something to do with the temptations to conformity Christian communities face in settings that value wealth and power.

The Rich Farmer parable points to the futility of devoting one's life to accumulating possessions in light of the coming judgment. Earlier in Luke's Gospel, Jesus says, "Woe to you who are rich now, for you have received your consolation" (Lk 6:24). Several questions come to mind after reading this brief parable.

For one thing, how much can one person really use or enjoy? Doesn't grain eventually rot if not used, if simply stored in silos? What is implied in the words of God to this man? "And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" Does this imply a social reality that the poor will get his wealth anyway, by default, so what purpose did his greed serve? Or that, no matter how carefully we plan, we can't control the dispersal of our wealth when we are no longer there to oversee it?

Even the Book of Proverbs, which generally assumes that wise living will be rewarded with a degree of prosperity, is cautious about making wealth the goal of one's life. "Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist. When your eyes light upon it, it is gone; for suddenly it takes wings to itself, flying like an eagle toward heaven" (Prov 23:4-5).

The search for wisdom, living in keeping with God's will, ought to be the goal of our lives (Prov 2:1-15). The Lord "stores up sound wisdom for the upright" (Prov 2:7). This is a far better storehouse than silos full of more grain than one person could possibly eat in a lifetime! Wisdom is frequently equated with a wealth that is more lasting and satisfying than gold, silver, and jewels (Prov 3:13-15). This wisdom is expressed as respect for the poor, who are, like the rich, children of God and whose advocate God is (17:5; 22:22-23; 23:10-11).

The fool is the one who is "wise in his own eyes" (Prov 3:7a), who does not 'fear the Lord" (Prov 3:7b), that is, does not revere God as the source of moral guidance or wisdom for daily living.

Wisdom and the wise life are equated with life, not just longevity and prosperity. It's one's relationship with God that neither adversity nor death can take away (McKenzie, 31). Wisdom is "a tree of life to those who lay hold of her" (Prov 3:18).

The realistic portion of this parable is that a rich man in Jesus' day would hoard his wealth while the poor around him were malnourished. This points to the social reality all around him. The unrealistic, or strange aspect, is that God speaks to him directly on the futility of the priorities he has chosen in life and on the exact timing of his demise. While none of us gets the timing memo, we have the futility information. Does it make a difference in our priorities for living out the future days of our lives?

Sources Consulted

Alyce M. McKenzie, Preaching Proverbs: Wisdom for the Pulpit (Westminster John Knox 1996).

About The Author:

Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. McKenzie's column, "Edgy Exegesis," is published every Monday on the Preachers Portal.

God and Mammon

by Nancy Rockwell, The Bite in the Apple

Gospel: Luke 16:1-13

Money, money, money
Must be funny
In a rich man's world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In a rich man's world
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It's a rich man's world
It's a rich man's world
(lyrics from Money Money in Mamma Mia)

Who does not spend time, in an agony of soul, over the bills, the needs, the desires, the dreams, the limits, of money? And whose money agonies do not have prayer mixed in them?

Even Bernie Madoff, most evil steward of other people's money and an imago of Mammon, has to have had bouts of agony, in the early days as he was stepping away into the dark world of Ponzi scheming as well as nowadays, in his prison cell.

Rich and poor, money has a way of bringing us all to our knees. Any bed can become a prison of terror as we face our money fears. We glimpse the shadow shape of that terror in brief statistics: most Americans have no savings for old age; forty nine percent of American children live in homes with incomes below the poverty line; the elderly sometimes choose between food and heat, between food and rent.

In his movie, Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen tells the tale of Jeanette, who has been the wife of a man like Madoff, and now is struggling to survive without money, after his fall. She staggers through other worlds, clinging to her delusion that she can still live in the world to which she no longer has any access. Jeanette is wholly focused on finding a way back to the world of money. And we sorrow with her, for everything she had, all her relationships, intimate and casual, all her activities, from cocktails to shopping, were dependent on her money. Without money, everything is gone, for nothing was really hers, everything belonged to the money. The film follows her descent into terror as her delusions fall away.

In his gospel, Luke tells a tale Jesus told, one of many about money, which strips away our delusions about our ability to manage money and be true to God at the same time. There was a dishonest manager, Jesus says. (Right away Jesus has our attention.) The manager has been cooking the books, squandering his employer's money. And then the employer finds out about it, is angry, and gives him his notice. A few weeks and he will be out of a job.

What am I going to do now, the manager asks, in terror, in prayer, and in longing to survive. I'm too old to do manual labor, and no one will hire me to be a manager again. He's out of options. Pentecost 18 generosity. But then he decides to reverse his schemes, change whom he serves. He spends the time he has left re-cooking the books, slashing everyone's debts by half or more. He calls in the debt-ridden poor, and they arrive with pinched faces and fearful hearts, ready to beg for more time, but they leave in tears of joy as the manager erases with a stroke of his pen debts that would have taken years of toil and sacrifice to fulfill. He has blessed their lives — figuring, when he is out of a job, they will be generous to him and help him survive. What a guy, huh?

Now here's the kicker: Jesus says the employer (who is always God in Jesus' stories) praises the man for doing this, calls him a good servant, saying he and those like him (children of this age, is Luke's term) are wiser in dealing with their generation than are the pious and prayerful (children of light is Luke's term).

And I know this to be true: for each time this story comes round, those in the pews are appalled, cannot find any sense in this, cannot move from the fact that this manager is a crook, to the wisdom of Jesus, that the moral thing is to serve the poor, to be generous where it is in your power to be generous, and whatever gets you to do, and whatever means you use, when you are generous to those in need, you are worthy of praise.

My own heart shrinks from this man, even after years of hearing his story. And I know this is my problem, not his. His story is St. Francis of Assisi's story, who came to see himself as a spoiled rich kid, and then emptied his father's warehouse of costly goods to help the poor (his father, who had been away when it happened, was enraged). And this is Robin Hood's story, taking from the rich to give to the poor. Among us, there is a St. Francis' reaction at times: when the media report some tragic loss, a handicapped van stolen from a family with a disabled child, or a motorized wheelchair hit by a car, or thirty six people maimed in the Marathon bombings, then the rest of us respond, bringing forth money from our own lives, which are always a mix of good and evil, to meet these human needs. Some sixty million has been raised for the bombing victims, much of it from people whose hearts swing both ways, toward Mammon and toward God.

If Bernie Madoff had been stealing in order to support, say, Haiti, would we feel differently about him? Ah, but he wasn't. The ten houses, the art trophies, the yacht, the endless things, were all he was about. Being generous with money is the thing that God, who never once mentioned good bookkeeping as a virtue, asks us over and over again, to do.

In fact, it is Mammon who loves bookkeeping, and God who loves us when we give away the assets. No wonder Jesus loved this manager, who stopped serving money, and chose to serve need.

God and Mammon

By Frederick Schmidt

Capitalism creates an environment in which moral responsibility is inescapable, not by virtue of what it advocates, but by virtue of what it doesn't do.

A recent NY Times feature on "God and Mammon" asks the wrong question and focuses on the wrong set of issues. The editorial asks, "Has contemporary American capitalism become incompatible with Christian values?" and, inevitably, the scholars who respond attempt an answer.

The problem is this: There is no inherently "Christian" economic system. Some have attempted to identify one, of course, and a few have even tried their own hand at crafting one. But neither group has been particularly successful in their efforts and neither history nor Scripture offer much encouragement. The one and only governmental (not economic) order proffered in the Old Testament was a monarchy and God cautioned against the decision; and the one time Jesus was asked about the government and God, Jesus instructed his hearers to "render unto Caesar, that which belongs to Caesar." That doesn't mean that the Christian tradition might not move to identify a distinctive form of economic or governmental order, but it certainly isn't encouraging.

Hence, my own take on the subject: Christians need to bring their understanding of sin to bear on their evaluation of all economic and governmental systems, rather than look for the one that is compatible with their beliefs. There is no "Christian" order; there are only systems that are more or less susceptible to manipulation and abuse and, therefore, take the Christian assessment of the human condition more or less seriously.

Capitalism remains the best of economic systems not because it is compatible with Christian values, but because it decentralizes power and wealth better than any other system and, therefore, creates a space that is open to some measure of scrutiny, criticism, and correction. That's not to say that it is perfect. But other systems, including those that try to impose that decentralization from the top down, fail the test—not because of their goals, but because they centralize the power to achieve those ends in the hands of a few bureaucrats or autocrats and because they hold that those bureaucrats can be trusted to act in the best interest of everyone.

Sadly, they can't be and they aren't; and a Christian understanding of the human condition knows that no human being can be trusted with that responsibility. Greed and corruption are part of the human condition. So, inevitably, bureaucrats, dictators, and oligarchs - no less than the rich or influential in a capitalist system - are subject to greed and the abuse of power. The fatal flaw in the alternatives to capitalism is that those systems centralize power which, in turn, maximizes the possibility of abuse. Take, for example, the crimes committed by bureaucrats at the Veteran's Administration who doctored the records, allowed people to die, and collected bonuses.

The other problem with the alternatives to some variant of capitalism is that their architects offer a system as a substitute for standing vulnerably before God where we are responsible for the exercise of our freedom. That, I suspect, and not monarchy alone, lies at the heart of the Old Testament's condemnation of Israel's desire for a king. Every time that the Israelites attempted to find an alternative to depending upon God, the prophets roundly condemned them. Chariots and kings were, from the prophets' point of view, a dangerous alternative to dependence upon God, a flight from moral responsibility, and inevitably silenced the critics of those who controlled the systems, policies, and treaties offered by Israel's leaders.

Capitalism, then, creates an environment in which moral responsibility is inescapable, not by virtue of what it advocates, but by virtue of what it doesn't do. It leaves us with our freedom, but it also forces us to shoulder responsibility for our choices. That doesn't mean that capitalism is compatible with Christian faith. That simply means that it leaves us with the freedom and moral responsibility before God that we can't avoid.

Christians on both ends of the spectrum make a mistake by asking which system is compatible with their faith. What Christianity needs is the independent judgment that can only be achieved through careful attention to the will of God. Attentive devotion to the will of God is the only thing that will give Christians the independent judgment needed, whatever the system in play. The moral imperative for Christians remains love, mercy, and care for the widowed and orphaned. Capitalism doesn't speak to those issues, but Christians who live within its confines must not only speak to those needs, but act to meet them. No alternative economic system will absolve us of that responsibility.

About The Author:

Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of 'The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times' (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including 'A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church' (Syracuse University Press, 1998), 'The Changing Face of God' (Morehouse, 2000), 'When Suffering Persists' (Morehouse, 2001), and many others.  He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. ...

God Looks Beyond the Surface

by Joel Osteen

"The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV)

Your Creator can see things in you that other people cannot see. Sometimes people will try to push you down or make you feel insignificant. Sometimes our own thoughts will try to convince us that we don't measure up. But God looks beyond the surface, beyond the mistakes you've made, beyond what somebody said about you and sees your incredible value. You may think, “Joel, I've messed up. I have blown it. I have failed. I'm all washed up.” No, God still sees more in you. God doesn't just see what you are; He sees what you can become. You may have made some mistakes, but God still sees victory on the inside of you. People may have tried to push you down, but God sees you rising higher.

Now, you've got to do your part and get rid of those condemning thoughts. Get rid of what somebody has spoken over you and start renewing your mind. Down deep, start believing that you are redeemed, restored, talented and valuable. Even if you have made mistakes, believe that there is more in store. God's not finished with you. He looks beyond the surface and sees your potential. Stay in step with Him and watch His plan for your life unfold.

Father, thank You for looking beyond the surface and seeing the real me. Thank You for placing Your potential on the inside of me. Help me to know You more and see You more clearly so I can follow Your ways all the days of my life in Jesus' name. Amen.

Source: Today's Word with Joel Osteen


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