God and mammon

Discipleship, Jesus of Nazareth, Sermon on the Mount

God and mammon

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.

No one 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 God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:19-24)

Many of us, consciously or not, are in the habit of compartmentalizing our lives. We have our work time. Time for household tasks. Time for ourselves. Hopefully, some time with our families. And if we can fit it in, some time for God.

We also, consciously or not, focus on the short-term rather than the long-term. The urgent rather than the important. The here and now over the eternal.

And we hedge our bets rather than completely trust in Jesus. We know He’ll take care of us, but let’s meet with our financial adviser, track our investments, and make sure we’re looking out for ourselves as well. (Please understand, “we” very much includes me!)

Jesus warns his disciples about the dangers of money frequently in the gospels. His words about money in the Sermon on the Mount are particularly stark: No one can serve two masters. Compartmentalizing isn’t an option. Hedging bets isn’t an option. We are called to serve God and trust in God with our whole heart. Money, then, only has value as a means of serving and giving glory to God.

What does this mean for our lives? It means different things for different people, because each of us has a unique calling from God. When I teach about marriage and families to my sixth grade PSR class, one point of emphasis is that all Catholics are called to live the virtue of chastity. For priests and religious, that means a vow of celibacy. For married couples, it means living the Sixth and Ninth Commandments, and being open to God’s gift of new life. The virtue is the same, but lived out differently for different people.

It’s similar with money. Many in religious orders take a vow of poverty whereby they give up all of their material possessions. Diocesan priests do not specifically take a vow of poverty, but receive a modest income and are required to live a modest lifestyle. (As a sidebar, it’s past time for the virtue of modesty to make a comeback.) Husbands and wives who are raising children have a responsibility to provide for their children. This entails earning, spending and saving money in a way that serves God by building up strong families. It is also means giving alms, and teaching your children to give alms as part of raising them in the faith.

Everyone has a particular calling from God, and I can’t pretend to be able to give financial advice that can apply to everyone. But there are questions everyone should be asking when they make financial decisions: Am I trusting in God, or relying on myself? Am I fulfilling my needs or my wants? Am I doing enough to help the poor and less fortunate? Am I doing enough to support the Church and share the Good News? Would my decisions please Jesus, or upset Him?

Who is my true master?

Remember, Jesus is not giving us rules to constrain us. He’s showing us how to be happy, to be free! Money frequently can weigh us down and consume us. As we strive to use money to serve God, we should be cultivating a certain indifference to, or detachment from, money. If God blesses us with earthly wealth, we should use it to give him glory. And if God merely (!) provides for our basic needs, we should be grateful that God loves us and takes care of us.

If we give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, we will not only store up treasures in Heaven, we will be happy in the here and now, and we will walk as children of the light. But if we make money (or other earthly pursuits or pleasures) our master, then the light in us will be darkness. And I think many times it’s not until we stumble and fall that we realize we’ve been walking in darkness all this time. But thank God He gives us the grace to figure it out, and He is always there waiting for us when we’re ready to come home.

Image: The Widow’s Mite by James Tissot (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).

Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day for the salvation of souls!

Michael Haverkamp

Michael Haverkamp is a lifelong member of the Roman Catholic Church. He is grateful to his parents for raising him in the faith. He resides in Columbus, Ohio with his amazing wife and three sons. By day he is a (usually) mild-mannered grant writer.

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