Saturday, November 7, 2009

You Cannot Serve Both God And Mammon!

Today’s First Reading is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans (16:3-9, 16, 22-27).

This entire chapter, the last of this epistle, consists mostly of personal greetings from the Apostle to a number of Roman Christians. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. Aquila and his wife Priscilla had lived in Rome until the emperor Claudius order the Jews to leave the city in 49 A.D. They had moved to Corinth, where Paul had worked with them; then they went to Ephesus. It was probably there that they risked their lives to protect Paul.

After Claudius died in 54 A.D., it is likely that Priscilla and Aquila were able to return to Rome, where they offered their own home as a place where other Christians could gather for worship. Paul also extends his greeting to “the church that meets at your home.” Paul also greets Epanetus, the first convert to Christ in Asia, and Mary, who toiled hard for the church; Andronicus and Junias, who had been in prison with him, Ampliatus, Urbanus, and Stachys.

Then Tertius, the scribe who took this letter down, added his greetings in Christ, as well as Gaius, the host of Paul and his companions, Erastus, the city treasurer, and Quartus.

Paul then concludes the epistle with these words: “To him who has power to make your standing sure, according to the Gospel I brought you and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him — to God who alone is wise be glory through Jesus Christ for ages without end! Amen.

Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke (16:9-15):

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling filthy money, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?

"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and 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 men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.

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This gospel is a series of attempts to raise the tone of yesterday’s parable. But some of them seem to make the opposite point. For example: “If you have not been trustworthy in handling filthy money, who could entrust you with true riches?” But, in the parable, the owner did not blame the unjust steward, he commended him. A more recent, and equally desperate, effort suggests that there was an error in transcription. The passage should begin “I tell you, make friends for yourselves, instead of accumulating worldly wealth.” That would make things nice again, putting everything back in the right place.

But, even if they seem to have little to do with the parable, the message of these early Christians is a valuable one. For instance, “You cannot serve both God and wealth.” It is a common experience that those who have much want more. That must be because what they have does not satisfy them, and they are baited into accumulating more. Greed is a bottomless pit, and nothing can ever fill it. Many misers live very poor lives, in order to die rich! Whatever governs your whole life, right up to your last breath, must be a religion. Either we serve God, or we serve God’s main rival, Mammon, the god of greed.

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