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God And Mammon

Luke 16:1-13

The Rev. Jon Roberts

22 September


St. Pauls Episcopal Church

Naples, FL

1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ 3 And the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.
10 “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters; for 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 God and mammon.”


Two tax collectors by Marinus Reymerswaele, 1540

“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. You cannot serve God and money.”

There once was a rich man, a business owner, who interviewed people for a manager position. He decided to select the individual that could answer the question, best, “How much is 2+2?” He had eight applicants. The first was an engineer, who pulled out his slide rule, shuffled it back and forth, and finally announced, “It lies between 3.98 and 4.02.″ The mathematician, when asked, said, “In two hours I can demonstrate it equals 4 with the following short proof.” The physicist declared, “It’s in the magnitude of 1101.” The logician paused for a long while and then said, “This problem is solvable.” The social worker said, “I don’t know the answer, but I am glad that we discussed this important question. The attorney stated, “In the case of Svenson vs. the State, 2+2 was declared to be 4.” The trader asked, “Are you buying or selling?” Finally, the last applicant was an accountant who looked at the business owner, then got out of his chair, went to see if anyone was listening at the door and pulled the drapes. Then he returned to the business owner, leaned across the desk and said in a low voice, “What would you like it to be?”

The question today is, “Who does God want me to be?” He wants us to be His children. He wants us to be those who love Him and love others. This is what it means to be faithful in a very little so we can be faithful in much. We cannot serve God and money. From the basic understanding we find the word money comes from the word “mammon” as we find in a translation such as the KJV. As we get into the nineteen seventies we find in another translation such as the NIV, the word “mammon” is translated into “money.” “You cannot serve God and money.” Push ahead only a decade into a translation such as the NSRV, the word “money” is translated into “wealth.” From the oldest to the newest translation the use of mammon, money or wealth, all connote something that is in opposition to God. Are we to say they are all bad?
We need money to live, do we not? To eat, to have shelter, to drive places, it is necessary. There must be something to this that we are not able to answer. We know the answer is solvable. We know that it has been decided already; But what do we make it to be? For the Christian, we should be able to articulate this. Let us turn to the Gospel to find out more. This is a most challenging text of Holy Scripture for those of us who want to know who is God, who is Jesus, who is the Holy Spirit, in this story of the rich man, the manager and the tenants.

The commentator, William Barclay, suggests you can’t find them in any of the characters. He calls them “three rascals.” A rascal is one, who may be cunning, deceptive even to get what they want. The manager sums it best, when caught red-handed by the rich man, when he says, “What am I to do [now]. I am too old to dig and too proud to beg.” Yet it is not beneath him to be shrewd. He comes up with what is most likely the most cunning, dishonest plot in the New Testament. He figures he has nothing to lose as the rich, absentee landlord has just fired him. He calls in all the favors from those who own the landlord. “How much do you owe,” he asks, but he already knows the answer. The tenant, paying a portion of his livelihood, said, “I owe a hundred jugs of olive oil.” “Take your bill, sit down quickly and make it fifty,” came back the manager’s suggestion. He did this again with a man who bartered with his grain of wheat. A hundred containers of wheat? “No problem,” the manager would say, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” With a few handshakes, some winks and pats on the back, the manager in his dishonesty put everything into play. He figured that tomorrow, when he’s out of a job, one of these he did a favor for will help him out. If not, a little blackmail wouldn’t hurt. He had it all figured out. When the rich man heard about this, he commended him. He learned from the master, the other rascal.

All the way down to the dishonest tenants, taking bribes under the table, we have a whole cast of rascals, all of whom do not really know who they are supposed to be. Jesus even comments that those who live by dishonest wealth will at least be remembered, somewhere down the line by those they resemble, and in a way he commends what they are doing. This is where we have to ask the question, “How can he admire them?” These people serve mammon. Jesus is saying that if we put our time and energy into being faithful as much or more than those who pursue dishonest gain, the world will be a much better place. Perhaps we are like those who get caught up in the numbers and need to make everything add up by engineering our own devices or coming up with our own proofs, only to find we are self-seekers; self-servers rather than God-servers. We are going to put our time into something. Those who love business, put their time into spreadsheets and love meetings. Those who love to play, put their time money into having the best toys. For what? For who?

Jesus shows us time and time again that none of that can be taken with us to heaven. It is in building relationships that matters most. The Collect today was very clear when it says we are, “not to be anxious about earthly things but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Tie this together with the prophet Jeremiah, who said, “My joy is gone…and my heart is sick.”[3] When we invest all our time into mammon, things that lead us in the opposite direction of God, we know it. We feel it in our gut and we explain away the answer in various ways and formulas. When 2+2 equals four, God is looking for the object of that answer. He is looking for the subject of one person to another equaling the whole.

When God brings two together in love, something wonderful is created. Healing, teaching, comforting, providing for one another takes place and through this comes our joy. The rich commodity we should be endlessly searching, faithful in the little we have and the much we can expect is… Our joy. Our joy is not found in the busy-ness of life nor the epicurean pursuits but rather in the knowledge of God’s love for us… a plan for His children who are to populate the heavenly places. This is what we are called to serve as this is where we find God. What does God want you to be? He wants you to love Him when you discover there is no possible way you can pay off the debt you owe. In fact, he has already written it off. Knowing that Jesus, His Son, died for you should demonstrate how much He loves you. He didn’t have to do it. That doesn’t add up when you think about all the dishonest dealings you have had with Him. Times that you ran and hid. Times you ignored the truth. Times that your pride would not allow Him in. But now you know the answer. He wants you to be His. He wants you to choose a life of joyfulness. Be faithful in a very little so that you may be faithful in much. Know this, “You cannot serve God and mammon.”

[1] Luke 16:12-13
[2 Luke 16:1-13
[3] Jeremiah 8:18

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