Ye cannot serve God and mammon
We are all worshippers. We all give our hearts to something. And yet we only have one heart. Simone Weil put it like this:
“No human being escapes the necessity of conceiving some good outside himself towards which his thought turns in a movement of desire, supplication, and hope. Consequently, the only choice is between worshipping the true God or an idol.”
Jesus says the same thing, but more radically. He identifies the idol that presents itself as God’s alternative: mammon.
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24)
What is mammon? In the Greek of the New Testament the word is left untranslated. It is transliterated from Aramaic where it means most straightforwardly “riches” or “wealth”. It’s related to the word for trust and is therefore “that which is trusted in.” Think less of cash and more of confidence. It is that in which we invest to give us life and security. Mammon is not simply the currency of this world. Mammon, according to Jesus, is a power that competes for our devotion.
And it’s one or the other. God or mammon. You cannot serve both. Jesus does not say “you must not” as though it were possible but just ill advised. Jesus does not say “It would be a good idea if you didn’t”. He says it cannot be done. Because mammon is a competing god in your life.
What does a god do? A god offers some kind of provision and protection. In return it asks that you follow it, that you bow down to it and worship it. Mammon is a false god. It promises provision – it will be the source of your needs and wants. It offers protection – it will cushion whatever blows you may face. In return it makes you follow it and bow down and worship it. Mammon is a Master, a slave-master at that.
Jesus unmasks Mammon here. Because to our eyes money looks like our servant. We think ‘Money gives me security, status, comfort, power. Money is my servant isn’t it? Money makes me a master doesn’t it?’ No. Whenever we put our trust in money to save us we follow money into slavery. And we will find that we don’t possess our stuff, it possesses us.
Just imagine all your worldly wealth collected together in a piggy bank. Imagine you have to carry it around with you. How do you feel, clutching that piggy bank to your chest? Free? Empowered? Happy? No you would be scared stiff that you’d drop it, or lose it, or have it stolen. And there would be a hundred things you would refuse to do in case you broke your piggy bank.
Yet whilst we clutch our wealth to our hearts, we will be slaves to money. And haters of God – that’s the stark assessment of Jesus. Followers of money must despise God. Because God is not committed to our financial security. Not in this age. God is not committed to our financial cushion. In fact He’s into demolishing our piggy banks. He wants to free us from them. If we have made money into our great hope for protection and provision we are on a collision course with God.
And so Jesus urges us to reconsider our object of “desire, supplication and hope.” Jesus reveals to us a God who is completely unlike mammon. Our Father protects and provides as a gift. As we’ll see shortly He clothes grass and feeds birds out of the overflow of His generous heart. How much more does He lavish gifts upon His children.
In mammon we see a god who promises life but demands our death. We must literally sell our souls to him. In Jesus we see the God who comes to die to give us life. And our souls are bought at great price.
In serving the god of mammon we find ourselves to be slaves. In serving the God of Jesus we find ourselves to be sons. If we serve the one we simply cannot serve the other.