“You cannot serve God and mammon.” These words of Jesus – if taken out of the wider context of today’s gospel text – have puzzled Christians throughout the ages and led to many creative and at times ‘self-justifying’ interpretations.
Scholars suggest that the word “Mammon” was used as a synonym for money, wealth or possessions, but perhaps one theory offers us a good starting point for our reflections on God’s Word to us in today’s liturgy.
It is the suggestion that the word Jesus used – usually translated to mean money – may also have meant “that in which one trusts”.
Perhaps this reveals to us the deeper truth of today’s readings. For we see Jesus not so much focusing on wealth per se, but on one’s attitude towards it – an attitude captured by the word ‘serve’. In this sense it seems to me that Jesus is challenging his followers not to make the pursuit of wealth so all embracing and overwhelming that it becomes the ‘master’ of one’s life – no someone but, something in which we place our trust (and to which we dedicate so much energy). Today we might readily use a phrase like ‘my core project’ to reflect the same truth.
Thus we might say that if one has made the pursuit of riches his or her ‘core project’ then it can often assume centre stage and leave little room for more relational or spiritual pursuits (or these become so neglected that they barely appear on our radars).
It seems it is this dynamic of placing one’s trust, energy and effort in some other ‘centre’ rather than basing one’s life on trust in God that Jesus is challenging.
For the challenge we see today is not only to resist allowing our energies and attention to be taken hostage by the desire for wealth, but also to take a stand against allowing needless anxiety or worry about self to take centre stage.
In one sense this is to place our own concerns at the centre of our life project and in a similar way we can then tend to give less attention and certainly less trust to others and God. Our self-focus – manifested in anxiety or worry becomes ‘mammon’ for us (just as much as the pursuit of wealth can).
Jesus seems to challenge us not to let any one thing or dynamic become so significant that we treat it as a kind of ‘god’. Something that assumes a power of its own to become a luring, desirable and at times demanding attraction in our lives and which blurs our vision of God and of the important people and values in our lives.
Rather we are invited to place our deep trust in God’s loving care for us. Jesus assures us once again today that our heavenly Father knows all our needs and will provide for us.
Let us enter this day allowing his words to echo within us “… seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you …”
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia. He currently serves on the General Council and is stationed in Rome.