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"You Cannot Serve Both God and Mammon"
November 5th Readings Reflection: Saturday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him. And he said to them, “You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.”
Today’s Gospel contains the familiar saying, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” This can be easily interpreted when viewed in relation to greedy, power-thirsty people who use their wealth to oppress others. We see such people as obvious examples of how wealth can quickly lead a person away from God.
However, as St. Paul beautifully expressed in today’s Epistle, wealth in and of itself does not corrupt the hearts of men:
I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.
St. Paul learned to live with wealth just as easily as poverty in his missionary work. Knowing that the riches of this earth are nothing in light of eternity, he did not allow himself to be affected in any way by earthly riches or a lack thereof. As St. Clement of Alexandria wrote in the second century A.D., Jesus’ words in the Gospels are not intended to lead rich people to despair of their salvation. Sanctity is attainable regardless of one’s financial status. The key, however, is whether the person allows his riches to lead him away from God.
Wealth brings many temptations with it, often making it more difficult to follow the path to holiness due to its allures and temptations toward avarice or greed. All people who possess earthly goods — even if they are not rich — must always remember that the things of this earth are passing, and that true riches lie in spiritual blessings. By dying to the things of this world and living for God alone, those who are rich on earth can “store up treasures in heaven” and one day merit a share in eternal life. May we always strive to serve God first and never allow any earthly things to take His place in our lives.