In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples
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 both God and mammon.
What does Jesus mean here? Although we understand the term “mammon” to refer to material possessions and greed, I don’t read Jesus as saying here that we have to give up all or our money and possessions – that unless we sell our iPhone, our laptap, our books, and other belongings (my nice Italian dishware or my accordion or whatever is your favorite possession) we will be serving mammon rather than God. Nor do I think Jesus intends to imply that the world in which we exist is not important or that we should ignore it.
Rather, Jesus is talking about maintaining a proper relationship with this world and the things of this world.
If we call ourselves Christians – and mean something by that – then our lives are oriented by God’s love made manifest in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that orientation has consequences for who we are in the world. The central focus of my life becomes, not what do I want, but what does God want of me? How do I live a life consistent with my creation in the image and likeness of God? And how does Christ’s life, death and resurrection teach me what it means to live a fully human life? That orientation also means that this human life is not all there is – that we live now in preparation for ultimate full union with God at our own resurrections.
That doesn’t mean not enjoying the things of this world – God wants us to enjoy the things of this world. God did, after all, create everything that is here and, for all of its faults and defects, the world bears the mark of God. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God” as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in one of my favorites poems. Someone once described C.S. Lewis as possessing “a delicate blend of embracing the world while not idolizing it.” I think that is a good way of putting it. God doesn’t have a problem with you owning a new iPhone if that helps you perform your tasks more effectively. God doesn’t have a problem with my going out and having sushi for dinner, even though rice and beans would be less expensive. By all means, enjoy what we have. But do not let it become something we idolize, something we serve.
So when Jesus talks about our not serving God and mammon, he is talking about not letting our attachment and desire for things of this world get out of balance. The question we each need to ask ourselves is: What is our mammon? What are the things of this world that run the risk of becoming our second master and interfere with our proper relationship to God as we go about our tasks?