On Stewardship and the Orthodox Life - Part 50: Mammon

"No one 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.” (Matthew 6:24 RSV)

 “Mammon” is one of those hard words we come across in the New Testament. It is so difficult to translate from the original language, that many English translators leave the word just as it appears (and sounds), not only in the original Greek, but also in the language of Jesus, Aramaic. The word mammon, when translated, is usually rendered as “riches.”

In the Sermon on the Mount from which the above Biblical citation is taken (Matthew 6:24), Jesus compares the service to “mammon” (riches) as fully contrary to service to God. It is a clear choice: one serves God or one serves the “stuff” of this world – its riches.

St. John Chrysostom is very clear on this point. In fact, he goes so far as to say that “greed is idolatry.” That is to say, those who hold on to their “mammon” through greed and personal desire are actually serving another master than God. That would be a definition of “idolatry.” This from Chrysostom’s 18th sermon on Ephesians:

If then it is not possible to serve God and Mammon, they who serve Mammon have thrown themselves out of the service of God; and they who have denied His sovereignty, and serve lifeless gold, it is plain enough that they are idolaters. “But I never made an idol,” a man will say, “nor set up an altar, nor sacrificed sheep… -- no, I came into the church, and lifted up my hands to the Only-begotten Son of God; I partake of the mysteries, I communicate in prayer, and in everything else which is a Christian's duty. How then, he will say, am I a worshiper of idols?” Yes, and this is the very thing which is the most astonishing of all, that when you have had experience, and have tasted the lovingkindness of God, and have seen that the Lord is gracious, you should abandon Him who is gracious, and take to yourself a cruel tyrant, and should pretend to be serving Him, while in reality you have submitted yourself to the hard and galling yoke of covetousness.

Chrysostom was never one to be too delicate to make his point. The service of God as one’s only Master is the only way. Anything less is service to some other god, of which mammon is one – and, in our world today, mammon seduces us in so many and varied ways.

 “No one can serve two masters.”

This weekly series of brief thoughts on stewardship and Orthodox life is brought to you by your Diocesan Stewardship Commission.

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