“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
We all say we do not serve mammon, that is, money. Nobody pictures themselves as greedy. Those others are certainly greedy, money-grubbers who will step on anyone to get as much as they can. But us? Of course we are not greedy. We do not serve mammon.
Often we do not love money directly. Perhaps in weaker moments we may do that. But even if we avoid specifically loving money, we still like the things money buys. We like the feeling of security it gives us. A full wallet makes us feel good, not so much because money is consciously our idol, but because we like being able to buy things that we like or need.
We are sometimes upset when we do not have as much as we think we need. Of course, God knows how much we need, and our feeble opinions do not necessarily agree with His. Still, we do not like it when we cannot purchase whatever we need, whenever we need it. We should trust that God will take care of us, even if at the moment He is allowing us to suffer lack of something. But instead of resting in security and contentment during times of poverty, we too often are stressed, depressed, and irritable. If we had as much faith as we should, then we would not do this.
So we can love mammon even when we have very little. It is not only the greedy fat cats who sit on piles of gold who love mammon. Even the poor beggar on the street can covet it and love it in its absence. We, who are somewhere in between the fats cats and the poor beggars, are by no means immune to loving money.
Our old Adam, who does not want to appear greedy, finds subtle ways to love money. Serving mammon may be terribly obvious if we covet shiny cars, either new or antique. We may easily notice if we covet the latest electronic devices, with bigger memories, faster processing speed, and high definition picture and sound. We would not mind a bigger and better house to show how successful we are – after all, we earned it, didn’t we? This coveting is a fairly obvious love of property, and therefore mammon.
But remember that in lack we can serve mammon as well. If I worry incessantly about whether there will be enough, then I am not trusting God, but serving mammon. Therefore, more common and subtle ways of serving mammon are these: to be anxious about your work and pay, to worry about what to eat and drink and whether there is enough, to fret about clothing and home, to agonize over the cost of healthcare, and so forth. If we simply lived in contentment and trust with whatever God gives us, then why should we worry about these things? Yet we do, even if we like to think that we do not. Worrying comes almost more naturally than breathing for us.
How does God want us to treat property? Not as ours, but as His property that He allows us to have as long as He sees fit. He does not only want us to use property to sustain our lives and to give us enjoyment. He does want those things for us, since He is a loving Father. But He also wants us to use our property to serve our neighbor. Of course, we cannot serve our neighbor if we starve to death, so obviously some of what God gives us is to prolong our lives and keep us healthy.
But if we view our resources as ours to pile up for ourselves, then we are no longer seeing them as God’s. If we think that God is asking us to give up what we have earned by the sweat of our brow, then we may be resentful toward the act of giving. We should see that He gave us the strength and intelligence to work, and He gives whatever success we receive. None of it is really ours in the first place.
All is temporary. All may be lost at a moment’s notice. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord. But we may be grief stricken even if we merely lose some trifling, small thing. Even if it was a very significant and relatively important thing that we lose, it was still only ours by the grace of God for as long as He determined.
So we come to the concept of a steward, or manager. This is a person who takes care of the property of an owner. The steward is not the owner. But the owner wants the steward to use his property to serve the owner’s purposes.
The Owner whose property we use is the heavenly Father. His purpose for His property is that we use earthly goods to help our neighbor. His love is like that. He gives away what is His constantly, without thought of loss or resentment. He has given the whole earth to us. He has given endless gifts of all kinds. Even more significantly, He gave His Son, handed over to sinful men to crucify. Why? Out of love to help poor sinners. He surrendered His greatest treasure to help someone undeserving, namely, us.
There cannot be a greater gift than that. In Christ crucified we see the Father’s loving hand. What He has, He gives away, even to the point of losing His Son. That is His nature: He is love. When we forget and think that we must face this life on our own and nobody will help us, we can look to the Cross and remember that the Lord is a generous giver. He does not hold back, but has given so much more deeply than we could ever give. With His Son, He has given us free forgiveness, everlasting life, rescue from the forces of hell, and has even poured out His Spirit upon us so that we may believe in Him unto salvation.
Now that we are redeemed and adopted as children of the constantly giving heavenly Father, He also gives the gift of vocations in which we live and serve our neighbor. In other words, He sends us out as His stewards with gifts to give others. But not all stewards are the same. Not everyone receives the same gifts or the same amount of gifts. We each have limited abilities to help others. Here we should not feel guilty if we do not have much to put in the offering plate, for example. On the other hand, if we have it and do not give it, are we not acting as if the Lord did not give us His gifts to use for His purposes? But let each act according to his conscience and under repentance and the forgiveness of Christ when we fail.
One of the primary ways God wants us to act as stewards is in the home. A spouse uses the gifts God gives to serve the other spouse and, where God gives them, children. But if I as a parent am getting rich because I have worked hard and it is mine so I am entitled to it, then I have lost sight of why God made me a parent. If a husband or father wants to amass riches to suit himself alone, then he is obviously serving mammon.
Even as Christians, we may become afraid that if we do not acquire this property or that object, then we will never be happy. We may be afraid to give away what we have received from the Father because we are afraid that we will give away too much. But that is really to say that we do not trust that He will take care of us. Here love of mammon tries to compromise our love of God. The one master is trying to push out the other, even in us, the people of God.
But the Father has given us abundant reasons to trust Him. As Christians, we should see that clearly. We see the treasure of His Son. We see the treasures of His sacraments. His precious Word is constantly on our tongues and in our ears. If that were not enough, we have more blessings on earth than we can count, many of which we do not even notice or give thanks for. Yet He does not cease pouring out blessing after blessing, not like a father who spoils His children. Instead, He always give exactly the right blessing at the right time, with wisdom and compassion.
How could we not trust this loving Father, who has even given us His Son? How shall He not therefore give us every good gift at the right time? We have deserved nothing, yet He gives us an overwhelming mountain of blessings. If He withholds or withdraws something, we know that He does not do it out of meanness. Instead of questioning His generosity, we should trust that He is always right, and always gracious.
So we should also be gracious in using our possessions for our neighbor. Instead of fearing our loss of possessions, we should confidently give them away where we see a need, knowing that God will not let us suffer unnecessary lack. Even if we gave away all that we have, we will receive an infinite reward at the resurrection of all flesh, when the true riches will be received that will be ours forever, and friends and neighbors from this life will welcome us into the everlasting habitations.
God keep us till that day in the grace of His Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
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