When a young, successful businessman asked how he could inherit eternal life, Jesus told him to follow God’s commandments. When the man confessed that he did in fact live that way, Jesus then told him to “sell everything you possess and give the money to the poor.” (Mark 10:17-27)
That’s how Jesus sees money…it’s good for giving away to those in need. That’s easy to say and do when you have a total lack of attachment to material wealth like Jesus did. But most of us aren’t anywhere close to being like him.
Mark’s gospel says the businessman heard what Jesus said and walked away upset. I think anyone who owns a house, has a retirement account, or has ever been fiscally responsible would feel the same. But the story doesn’t stop there.
On the night Jesus was betrayed, Mark said there was a man nearby watching. And not just any man, but one who was only wearing a small cloth around his waist. When the authorities tried to grab him with the others, the man slipped away naked. Here was someone who literally gave up all he had to be with Jesus. I think these are the same two men. I believe the guy did exactly what Jesus asked once he realized his money was worthless compared to what God had to offer?
In our reading from Luke’s gospel Jesus gives his disciples, and us, a similar decision. It doesn’t require us from running around naked as a jaybird, but it does require a great sacrifice, nonetheless.
Read all of Luke 16:1-13 here
“...Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much, and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If, then, you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Luke 16:1-13
In a sermon on this passage, Richard Rohr teaches us that whenever Jesus tells his parables, they are often very broad and inclusive. Here he uses the word "non-dualistic." These stories speak to everyone about how to live in the realm of God. For example, he speaks of Wheat and Weeds growing together (Mt. 13:24-43). And says things like, “My father makes it rain on both the good and the bad” (Mt. 5:45).
It’s rare for Jesus to speak in a "dualistic," what I would call an either/or sort of way, like he does here. When he does, as Rohr notes, "it always has something to do with the poor or with money."
So, by drawing a very clear line between God and Mammon, Jesus gives us this absolute because he knows which side most of us will fall on.
Now, mammon is a word that’s not very common in our vernacular. The bible translates it as wealth or riches to describes the debasing influence that material wealth wields over us. I’m not so sure Jesus is talking simply about money. He knows we need money to live in this world. I think he’s talking about something bigger, what some call “mammon illness.” That is, when we become so preoccupied with it that we let it control us.
We’re always trying to hoard it, collect it, or look for ways to multiply it. And boy do we know the kind of bad things people are capable of doing to attain wealth, or to keep what they have.
Money is our life insurance policy. But only in the short-term. Perhaps like the rich young businessman discovered, what good is it after we're dead?
watch message here
There’s a universal truth that’s as old as time that says the one with the most money has the most power. Not just buying power, but the power to influence, dominate, enslave, and control others. So, in this space between God and mammon, Jesus gives us a choice. It’s either one or the other. You can’t serve both.
Rohr reminds us that most people in the world don’t have insurance policies or 401k’s and spare money to gamble in the stock market. Rohr tells us, “What they do have is family. You have to love and honor your parents because they're all you've got. And the parents have to love and respect their children because they're going to take care of them in their old age. That’s their insurance plan.”
It’s relational. We like to think we are self-sufficient. But like I said, mammon only goes so far, offering us only short-term results. Jesus knows our real long-term security comes from having a relationship with God. You see, it’s all about how we relate, how we love and serve, God and each other. That’s our true worth.
What makes Anamesa a sacred space, are the relationships we’ve made with one another. Like Rev. Dawn wrote in this week’s newsletter, we’ve become a unique family – one that is grounded in loving God, loving others, and serving both. Rohr says, “These are the eternal dwellings that last forever.”
With God it’s always relational, always personal. With mammon, it’s always “counting, weighing, measuring, deserving.”
The problem with this way of thinking is that eventually it “becomes the way we relate to one another.”
How many times have you met someone, and your first thought is, “What can she give me?” Or “What does he have that I need?” But Jesus is saying, “if you want to enter into the Kingdom of God you have to stop counting. You have to stop weighing. You have to stop measuring. You have to stop deserving.”
Such thinking limits our ability to live into our divine selves. It stops the flow of God’s love and grace from coming to us and moving through us. We can’t hoard God’s love. It’s not ours to keep. It’s only ours to give away. If we are to live into our divine goodness, we must share love as freely as God has with us.
Now there’s a bigger problem I have with mammon, and it’s that gives us a worldview of scarcity. It makes us believe there’s never enough. Or at least not enough to share with “them,” or “those people.”
God gives us a worldview of infinite abundance. Infinite grace. Infinite love. Infinite forgiveness and mercy. There’s enough for everyone. Everyone.
In case you’ve forgotten, infinite means, “Limitless or endless in space, extent, or size; impossible to measure or calculate.” If God’s love is impossible to measure or calculate, then what’s the point of counting, or measuring or weighing it? Why do we bother wondering who is worthy or who is more deserving of it? It’s not up to us.
In talking to a nun who was worried about God tracking her many failings, St. Thérèse of Lisieux famously said, “There is a science about which God knows nothing. Addition.”
Like I’ve said before, God is a lousy bookkeeper. One who always expends love knowing the account will always have sufficient funds. If we try to fill this space between God and mammon with counting and measuring and weighing, then that’s how we will always see and treat others.
We will count their worth by how much they make or what title they hold.
We will measure their success by their business or educational achievements, not by the good they do in their community.
We will weigh their opinions on how they vote or how it will boost our egos. This is the kind of thinking and living that stops God’s love from flowing.
We need to remember, “The love of God can’t be doled out by any process whatsoever. We can’t earn it. We can’t lose it.” All we can do is either accept it or reject it. It’s “either/or” not “both/and.”
We can’t move in a world of infinite mercy, grace and love while counting, measuring, and weighing who’s worthy and who’s not. God does not reign that way.
Jesus draws the line in the sand here reminding us that the kingdom of God is about abundance, not scarcity. It’s about everyone getting their fill of the goodness of God’s infinite love.
As Richard Rohr likes to ask, “What’s half of infinity? It’s infinity.” This tells me that even the tiniest speck of infinite love is still infinite! There’s enough for you, and me, and every living thing that shares this sacred space called life. We have to stop telling ourselves otherwise.
In Christ, God cracks open every heart so divine love can flow in us, and through us, and all around us.
Christ is God’s insurance plan so that no one will go without love, without mercy, without knowing and feeling God’s tender touch. And come to know God’s glory in the process.
Mammon tells us there’s never enough. But God says, “I am enough. I am all you need.”
Once we see ourselves as God sees us, once we dive into God’s infinite love and grace, we begin to see ourselves and others the same.
Jesus meets us, in this space we call Anamesa, in the space between God and Mammon to remind us that it’s God who is abundant and giving, picking us up out of our poverty, our limited thinking, to give us a world of infinite possibilities.
“What's half of Infinity? What’s a quarter of infinity? What’s one millionth of infinity?”
The math is simple. But living it out with a faithful heart takes a little getting used to. How about then we start practicing it now.
Thank you to Fr. Richard Rohr whose sermon on Money I got this idea from. Recorded on September 22, 2019 (accessed on September 16, 2022).
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (New York: Convergent, 2021).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”