In this week’s gospel reading, Jesus talked about money. He said, “And now we’ll go to Frank in Jersey City. You’re on ‘Money Talk with Jesus.’ What’s your question Frank?” “Hi Jesus. First-time caller, long-time listener. Love your show. Anyway, I’m thinking of rolling my 401k into municipal bonds. Is this a good long-term strategy?”
Oh wait, I’m sorry. Jesus was not a syndicated radio host who discussed financial matters. What He did say about money is this: “No one 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 both God and mammon.”
The word mammon, by the way, is interesting. It is often described as being synonymous with the word money. Jesus’ quote is often translated, “You cannot serve both God and money.”
But mammon means a little bit more than just money. It is the Greek transliteration of the Jewish word that means roughly, “that in which one trusts.” So, the word mammon really means wealth in which someone puts his faith; the assets a person relies on to take care of all his needs.
Jesus said if a person becomes devoted to wealth and puts his faith in that wealth, then there’s no faith left for God. This is idolatry, the worst of all sins.
In his first letter to Timothy, St. Paul wrote: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” This verse is often shortened to: “Money is the root of all evil.” But that’s not what Paul said. It’s the LOVE of money that’s bad, not money itself.
I recently heard a priest say the amount of money spent each year in Connecticut’s two gambling casinos—by just Catholic residents of the state—is well into the hundreds of millions of dollars range. If just HALF of that money were instead donated to faith-related projects, then our Catholic parishes and schools would be expanding rather than closing.
Do you think God is impressed when someone goes to Mass on Sunday morning and tosses five dollars into the collection basket, and later that same day takes a bus to the casino and pumps hundreds of dollars into slot machines, while absolutely LUSTING for a jackpot? I don’t think so.
Jesus is asking us some tough questions this week: Are money and material goods the main focus of our life? Are we possessed by our possessions? If we lost all of our assets, could we still be happy?
That last question is really the key. No matter how much money we have, if we ever lost it all but still could manage to be at peace and have trust in God, then we are not “serving mammon.” We are not putting our faith in fleeting riches and ignoring the eternal, spiritual aspects of life. We are not committing the worst sin of all, idolatry.
More than anything else, God wants our souls. He wants us to be in Heaven with Him for all eternity. No matter how much wealth a person piles up now, it will be rusting and rotting one hundred years from now. But the human soul is eternal. A hundred years from now will be merely the first fraction of a second of eternity.
God wants us to have an eternal perspective on life. When we see the big picture, it is obvious that God Himself is our only hope. Money and material goods can bring comfort and a short-term sense of security, but wealth cannot save our souls for all eternity. That’s why we should never serve mammon. That’s why we should never put our faith and trust in mere money.