Eventually, when there is a free choice offered to you by God, The Lord wants you to take a stand and make a decision. What way are you going? What will you favor? What do you truly prefer? This is the Sunday-after-Sunday-after Sunday proposal that is being given from Luke’s Gospel in the past few weekends to the churches. You have heard it proclaimed, such as on a few weekends ago about the disciple needing to choose God and relate God to all other relationships, and so to “hate” (or better said: not prefer over) the outside relationships that harm or stand in the way of our primary one with God. Our Deacon Chuck gave a great homily on it on October 8th about that Luke 14 text. Today in Luke 15 it is about God and money decisions. Will it be God or mammon that is primary? Only one can be the drive and focus of your life. Who or what you will serve? God or mammon? Jesus says it is a fundamental choice of life.
Like the other Lukan lessons, it is a key thing that we must decide and choose the way. There is not much time or room for indecision. Much is riding on it’s choice.
Today’s portion of Luke says:”The person who is trustworthy in very small matters, such as in handling wealth or money, can be trustworthy in handling much more later, into true wealth. “ What does this mean? Here –Our Lord is speaking about living aright on earth so that we can live on in Heaven. If we can be so trustworthy in our earthly time as to make of our lives an investment in God and the Kingdom of God treasures, then God can give us much more later on—as in the riches and opportunities in Glory with Him. “ (What a sweet deal!)
The text goes on: “Yet if you are dishonest now with wealth or money, then how can God trust you that you are His? You cannot fully serve both God and mammon.” Here—Our Lord is advising us towards success. God knows that we could be so tempted to fall into the dishonest life , inwhich the first reading at Mass says was a problem even in the prophet Amos’ time, when people cheated in various ways to tip the scales secretly in their favor. Jesus asks: How could you be trusted ahead into His kingdom with an unrepentant lifelong way of being so deceitful on earth? (‘Yikes!)
In today’s Gospel, it is noted how Jesus gave money the Semitic name of mammon. This was not a part of the culture. The Hebrew Bible had no parallels in the historical texts of money being called mammon. The word “mammon” is used only four times in Scripture, and it’s all by Jesus, and all used in a derogatory sense. The Pharisees understood it, though. Unrighteous mammon was a Pharisaical term for wealth acquired legally, but tainted in the sight of God. It is an unruly gain made under the table, out of sight, so to speak. Jesus, however, used the term of mammon not just to refer to the sneaky stuff, but even to refer to all material resources not used to the glory of God. “Mammon” is Aramaic for “that in which one trusts”– hence, in this case: money. Jesus says: ‘People must choose in Who or what they trust in: God or mammon? Will it be: Living in giving to God, fairly and honestly? Or, will it be: Taking for having for one’s self, lustfully, with no whim for how it’s taken or over what poor effect or result it’ll have on others?’
Jesus essentially asks: In Who or what is your fundamental trust? Jesus understood that money is not simply an object. By calling it uniquely as mammon, He is saying how money is a personal, pervasive force. It is like living under a god (small g). In the Old Testament, Solomon recognized the lure of money, too. In a particular line he said: “Those who love money will never have enough. How absurd to think that wealth brings true happiness!” (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
Jesus knew how fallen man has a tendency to relate money and happiness. He knew money could be lifted up to a wrong high priority for people in that pursuit. When we get into that position of want, we can risk everything for it, to have it, to keep it, then want to have more of it. It can put our souls into dangerous predicaments of choice. But we can choose the Lord over the persons and things and matters that tempt us. Of some memorable Bible persons who did, think maybe of Joshua. Josh took a definite stand, as he set up his home in the northland of Israel, and famously stated in Joshua 24:15 “Now as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” I sometimes see that Bible quote on plaques in people’s homes. I feel good for them who are in that mindset there of serving God.
Not everyone wants to take a stand. They’d rather dilly-dally in the valley of indecision. Jesus is urging that we don’t do that. The proverb says: “He that hesitates is lost.” A famous philosopher said: “Not making a decision is in of itself a decision.”
The latest Summer Sundays has a repeating message that the disciple of The Lord has some key decisions to make in their life. It is about our ongoing conversion.
An undecided politician was interviewed live this past week, and I heard him, in one verbal paragraph, say one thing, then soon contradict himself by saying the opposite thing. The reporter pointed that two-sidedness to him, and the politician dodged it by saying he actually had a third position different from the first two!
Let’s not become “that guy!”
I had a funny or odd thing happen about my passport certificate renewal. I was in the downtown office in D.C. filling out the form for a new one. It has a place for name. Last name first, first and middle name next. I wrote Barry—the agent looked at it and said: “That is your last name? “Yes, I said.” I suppose she thought I had written my first name. Some guys are named Barry. In the next two lines to fill in were Sex and Place of Birth: Of the two choices of male or female, I chose male. Then in the next entry —I wrote: ”Middlesex!!” As I wrote it, it struck me kind of funny. You read the form and it asks: Sex? Male or female. Mine says right below it: Middlesex. It is like I avoided the choice and created a new third middle category! Now, seriously, in a closer examine and reading, as the Passport Agent did make—she clarified: “The place you were born was called “Middlesex?” I said: “Yes, it is actually the area of Greater London, England in it, of the hospital where I was delivered. So, Ruislip, Middlesex is my official birthplace.” I think she was relieved that it was correct as my birthplace, in that I was not answering for my sexual or gender identity—I am a male. I am not a middle sex person! But it is my birthplace! Can you imagine, though, a conversation with my birth doctor and delivery nurse? What IS this baby child—male or female?! I don’t know. Just write down middlesex for this Barry child!
Yet some of us in the born-again life might think we can have a neutral stand on vital Faith Matters—as in some non-committal ones on religion, like Christian Convictions: Undecided. This gospel teaching of Jesus would say: Decide.
Jesus would ask us to see that money and materialism would not supersede our Catholic Faith. Jesus poses it this way: ‘Will materialism or greed or lust over money and abuse of it be our master? Will it be our god?’
In application for our young adults and teens, especially: Keep alert to how some temptations are out there for quick money. Be alert to how materialistic things will be proposed as a higher choice to you (over your faith in God), when you’ll be asked to compromise yourself and the love of God and of being good for Him. Gullible people, even those who are Catholic Christians, get played all the time to schemes by people who live for “mammon.” It’s a lesson from generation to generation to learn.
Victor Hugo wrote a story that pertains to the lure of mammon, of materialism and self-riches and its dangers. He is best known to have authored “Les Miserable’s” and “Hunchback of Notre Dame,“ but in 1866, he wrote “The Toilers of the Seas.” There is an evil character in the story named Claubert. Claubert wished to rob a whole shipload of people, so he steers the ship onto a sandbar and gets every one into life boats. He points to a nearby island and tells them to hurry and take the boat there. He says in a lie, “There a ship will rescue you.” Wanting to appear the hero, he stays back with the stuck ship. Yet what he really wants to do is go through all the state rooms and the safes onboard ship; and steal everyone’s things. The people are played! His plan is carried out to leap off the hidden side of the ship, swim a short distance to another island, where he knows the ships will pass by. The other people will be lost. He will be saved, and he will have all of their money. Loaded with cash, he leaps over the side of the ship, touches bottom in the shallows, and pushes off to go up to the surface. Just as he pushes off something grabs him. It’s a giant octopus. He feels its icy tentacles wrap around him, and the valuables, and he won’t let go of the riches, and he tries to throw the octopus off, but as he throws off one tentacle of it, another one grabs him until they hold him around his neck and his waist and his legs; and they pull him down to death.
Something like that happens when we try to hold onto money. Something bigger than the object itself takes hold of us. It will not let go. This graphic illustration hopefully makes my point, especially to you younger folks. This octopus called mammon holds us so tightly there is no possibility for escape. That’s the sad truth of it. Mammon has enormous power. The power of this idol – this god– is so great that we cannot save ourselves from its tentacles.
Whom or what do you serve? That’s the question Jesus puts before us. We can serve God, primarily—or—we can serve money. We cannot serve both. “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money,” says Our Lord.
Money, now more than ever, is a problem. We live in a materialistic society where many people serve money. They spend their lives collecting and storing it and spending it. Their desire for money seems to far outweigh their desire to serve God. But Jesus talks of recognizing what is going on in the world. He names some things as dishonest wealth as differed from true wealth. He talks of bad investment of one’s life into what you’ll lose, or what’s a wise investment of giving in to God.
As Catholics, we believe that this Mass is our bringing ourselves to Christ, the One hosting the gathering. We put all our lives, as best as we can surrender, into what Jesus will offer to the Father. A Mass is a Holy Offering. Yours and my offering may not be so much, but as put into Christ’ Offering—well, it becomes an investment to God, even treasure to Heaven. We offer our trust to God here. Jesus collects the gifts and in Himself, the Perfect Gift, He gives what is acceptable to God the Father. That is what the Mass is about, you know! Today’s epistle reading gives Jesus that special title as “Only Mediator to God.” He takes our service and makes it into lasting riches. The person serving only mammon have just a passing possession.
While money is not our main focus in a parish, nor of the Mass, it is included in it. Within the Sunday liturgy, we are called to give sacrificially to God in time, treasure, talent and worship. So, we have a finance committee that keeps some eyes on the money giving to the church. I just got word that contributions went down over the past two months, as Summer time moved people’s commitments possibly over to vacation or pleasure expenses. People also took breaks altogether from coming to Sunday Mass. This convicting Gospel of Luke 15, timed nicely in September, invites people to get back to spiritual priorities and decisions. I hope some people clearly hear it.
In 1864, on the two-cent piece, the United States first put the words “In God We Trust” on some money to remind people of the common temptation to put ill trust in money as our god. That was likely led by some wise people who knew today’s gospel. In the 1950’s, the motto was put on all our money. Now in 2019, there are movements of atheists and secular humanists to demand that phrase be taken off all U.S. monies! Why? Because they see it as their money, and not as God’s. Yet we believing Catholics really are called to see how all our money is God’s money. We also see that the lust of money can be an evil to turn us against God, so that such a motto on the moolah is a good warning.
In finish, during last week the parish received an envelope offering from a parish household, and it was for $3,600. It was called to my attention, and I phoned the giver. I spoke this way to them: “Hello. I am just checking something from the collection. Did you intend $36.00 as in $36 dollars, or indeed $3,600 as in 3, comma, 6, oh, oh?” They said: “I meant 3,600 dollars. It’s my gift, in the spirit of a tithe to God. It’s a planned giving amount today, all prayed about…” I replied: “Oh that’s really great!” I knew then that I was talking to someone well practiced in today’s gospel of serving God, not mammon. They want our parish to keep serving and promoting the Gospel of Christ, and that kind of help is surely recognized as a faith act by God, and an investment of the future of that believer.