The Gospel St. Matthew ch 6 v. 24.
At that time: Jesus said to his disciples: No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food: and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. Yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven: shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Be not therefore anxious, saying: what shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness ; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow. For the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
During the Epistle lesson for last Sunday (Galatians V. 16), we once again heard St. Paul’s list of all those “sins of the flesh” that so dominate our lives; “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like“. The standing joke in the Sacristy before Mass is about just who in the congregation the Lector should look upon as he recites this list. Of course, the “punch line” to this joke is that we ALL should feel the gaze of Our Lord upon us when we hear the accusations of our sins.
But the problem that we have with such a list is that we will then try to justify our lives by how many or how few of these sins we have committed; and even worse, we will try to put them “in order”; “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft“; well, since these are at the beginning of the “list”, then they must be the “big” ones; so if we just refrain from infidelity and lust, bathe regularly, and reject anything that resembles Satanism, then we’re doing OK, right?
But then we have the next section of St. Paul’s list; “hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions“. OK, so maybe this means that we also need to take better control of our emotions; particularly when it comes to the Church. So we will endeavor to be better Christians and to treat our fellow parishioners accordingly, so as to avoid causing any discord within our parish.
And the last section of St. Paul’s list appears to be the easiest of them all; “heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like“. Well, I don’t think I need to tell you that no one in this parish is guilty of such things; at least not so far as I know. Surely no one here has committed murder, or uttered heresy; surely no one here has indulged in drunkenness, or revellings, or in St. Paul’s all-encompassing category which he describes as “and such like”. Surely no one here has violated any one of these “sins of the flesh”; so just as surely we need not to be concerned. Right?
But I digress; and so we must return to the Gospel lesson for today “Jesus said to his disciples: No man can serve two masters“. Here, the King James translation fails to convey the depths of the meaning of this statement; in the Greek translation the word “serve”, means, “to be a slave to”. Likewise, the word “master” means one who has “absolute ownership”. When we take this into consideration, we see a very different sort of message; “No man can be a slave to two absolute owners”.
In the ancient world, a slave had no personal rights, excepting those that were granted to him by his owner; every moment of every day of his life was dictated by the whims of his master. There was no moment of time that belonged solely to the slave; he or she was totally at the disposal of their owner.
This then reflects our relationship with God. When we say that we are Christians, we acknowledge that He is our “absolute owner”, and that with Him, we have no rights of our own. We sublimate our own wishes and desires to the Will of our Master; and we submit to doing His Will at all times and in all ways. When we say that we are Christians we recognize that we are on duty 7X24X365; a full-time commitment that never ends. When we say that we are Christians, we admit that God is our Owner, and that we belong to Him.
Unfortunately, all too often, we forget this point. As we go about the course of our daily lives we fail to remember that our lives do not really belong to us. Particularly in this country, where we are reminded on a daily basis about the importance of our freedom, of our liberty, we are lead to believe that we are actually in control of ourselves. And we are further lead to believe that this “self-control” is exhibited by the things that we possess. We own our house; we own our car; we own our furniture, our clothing, etc. All these things belong to us, and to no one else.
But the question needs to be asked; do our possessions really belong to us, or do we belong to them? Do we allow ourselves to become so consumed with the acquisition and maintenance of our things that we begin to devote the larger portion of our lives to them? Have we become so obsessed with our idea of liberty and freedom that we will do anything to maintain it? Have we given our lives to these things and these ideas? Have we become slaves to them?
This is what Our Lord was talking about when he told his disciples, “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon “. Now the Hebrew word “mammon” translates as “material possessions”; but the root of that word means “to entrust”. And by the time of Christ, the meaning of “mammon” had changed from “to entrust” to “that in which a man puts his trust”. In this context, “mammon” means “material possessions in which a man puts his trust”.
You see the problem here don’t you? We tend to put our trust in things that we see as “tangible”; our house, our cars, our clothes, etc. We tend to put our trust in things or ideas that we think we have some level of control over; our freedom and our liberty. But what if I told you that the meaning of the word “mammon” “evolved” over the years to the point that it is now spelled with a capital “M”; which means that “Mammon”, “material possessions in which a man puts his trust”, has come to be regarded as nothing less than a god?
How many of us have said more than once in our lives that we put our trust in God? And I’m sure that when have done so, we believe that we are truly willing to submit our troubles, our anxieties, our problems to Him. At those times, we are willing to “entrust” our lives to God.
But what about all those other times, when we might see a threat to our possessions? What about those other times when we think that our lives, our freedom, and our liberty might be under attack? What about those times where we think that we are actually in control? And so the next question that needs to be asked is this; in whom (or in what) are we really placing our trust?
This is where I must return to St. Paul’s “list” from last Sunday. You will recall that I allowed how we may each feel safe in the knowledge that we haven’t really committed any of these offenses in any “big” way. And you will also recall that I told you that this is where the danger lies.
We may feel confident that we have not committed “heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like“ (though based on the old photographs that I have seen recently, “revellings” might be in question), but are we really sure that we have done so in accordance with the Will of God?
Have we avoided “hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions“, through the Grace of our true Master, or have we tried to do so by our own decisions? Do we say that by our personal judgement we have not submitted to “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft“; or do we say that we have done so only by the commandment of our absolute owner? In other words; have we become slaves to our individual desires, needs, compulsions and pride, or are we truly slaves to God?
“Ye cannot serve God and Mammon “. We cannot serve both God and the “material possessions in which a man puts his trust”. And these possessions include our personal desires, our personal will; our personal pride. And if we do try to serve them both, then we will ultimately “hate the one, and love the other; or else we will hold to the one, and despise the other“. The third question for us today then is this; which one will we hate? Or perhaps more to the point; which one have we already despised?
Sadly, we don’t even see the connection here; when we say that we will abstain from all those things on St. Paul’s “list”, we seem to think that we are doing so because it is our own will to do so. But if we are truly servants of God, if He is truly our absolute owner, then our obedience in all these things is never according to our will, but to His. The only “choice” that we can make is to either be God’s slave, or be a slave to the world. We must be one or the other; we cannot be both.
And so when we say that we are taking hold of our own freedom, our own liberty, our own possessions, we are actually denying the fact that none of these things belonged to us in the first place. When we say that by our own efforts, we have abstained from all of those nefarious “activities” in St. Pauls’ “list”, we deny the fact that we never had the choice to commit them in the first place.
“Ye cannot serve God and Mammon “. We cannot serve both God and the “material possessions in which a man puts his trust”. We cannot serve both God and our own wishes, our own desires, our own pride. When we say that we are Christians, we forfeit the right to make those decisions for ourselves and cede that right to our only true and absolute owner. When we say that we are Christians we become His slaves, His servants; and everything that we own, everything that we possess, everything that we are, forever and truly belongs to Him. And it is in God our Master that we place all our trust.