Mammon, Rival of God and a Trap of Man: #10
Mammon is not a person. Mammon is the Aramaic word for “riches” and for “wealth.” To Jesus, mammon was God’s strongest rival, and man’s most treacherous trap. We know Mammon best by the currency, which controls all of us. We have it printed on our dollar bill, “In God we trust.” Yet, what we really mean, “In this god we trust!” Literally, mammon forces man to depend on it for everything, including religion. Prosperity has been a sign that God, the Creator is favoring a person, a nation, or even a race. However, poverty has been taken to be a sign of displeasure or even as a curse of God. It is an incorrect presumption, but nevertheless powerful enough to create havoc in man and his world.
Jesus mentioned mammon twice. Once, Jesus warned of letting mammon run our lives, and once, how to use mammon for our benefit. Mammon is God’s rival and Jesus’ followers cannot submit to it. They are permitted to use it, provided they hurt no one in the process:
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).
Jesus told stories and parables to show the impact mammon had on people. Jesus showed us how mammon should be used productively and not distractingly, like the leaders did in His day. Mammon must be used as a means to an end, but never as an end in itself. The following story illustrates the way the worldly leaders and systems treat themselves and their friends, but in the process they harm and hurt their benefactor. Without a benefactor or a provider, Satan, the devil who is the clever steward, and Satan’s friends cut off their own umbilical cord of life. Jesus also said to his disciples:
There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 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.’ 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. I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship. So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest steward for his prudence; for the sons of this world are wiser in their own generation than the sons of light. 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.
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. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 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 (Luke 16:1-15).
Jesus’ very first encounter was with the manager and the supreme leader of mammon’s domain. It was Satan, the devil, who set the trap for Jesus with the glory and the fame mammon could provide. It was not Satan’s wealth, but Satan had acquired the use of mammon. Satan can offer it to whoever is induced to serve him. Mammon is a very attractive proposition and it traps millions in false hope. Satan does not reward everyone, but only the leaders of the systems that make false promises to the people, and then blame their failures on others, and even on the Judeo-Christian God. Without benefactors or producers, there is not enough food in the world to feed Satan’s followers alone. Nature itself does not allow a greedy steward to rob his master continually, in order to feed himself and his friends. It may be praise worthy to the world, but not to God, who refuses to turn stones into bread or jump off a tower to please a crowd.
And Jesus, full of the Holy, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, “He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord you God.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time (Luke 4:1-13).
In the Gospel of Matthew 4:4, Jesus actually quoted Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” What did God originally say about making bread? He told Adam, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of the ground you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). To Moses, the Lord God commanded, “You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:15-17).
What have these rules to do with mammon? Greedy and ambitious individuals that gain glory by exploiting their own people run mammon itself. They live as if there is no forever to their material fortune and physical pleasure. Mammon’s servants are merciless and extremely selfish. Jesus described such an individual in the “Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.” It is a warning to every one where mammon can take a man, regardless of his knowledge about Moses. His love for mammon was greater than his fear of God and the Law of Moses.
There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead’ (Luke 16:19-31).
Mammon does keep good people out of the Kingdom of Heaven. It was painful, to Jesus, to see a rich young man with a good background to walk away from eternal life because he could not part with his material possessions.
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’’ And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:17-31).
The rejection of this rich man, who could do so very much for the Kingdom of Heaven, was a radical change to what the disciples presumed Jesus had come to do. They had left their homes and their jobs to be a part of a restored piece of real estate called Judea. Jesus separated Himself from any mammon collateral as evidence of God’s Presence in His Life. Jesus made it very clear to a man who wanted Him to divide his inheritance with his brother with another parable:
One of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother to divide his inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! this night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:13-21).
The right to divide and to manage holdings belongs to those who acquired ownership. Therefore, no government, or system can, without their consent, confiscate or distribute their properties or their possessions, to equalize their economic disparity. It is not enough to teach a man to fish, if he is not being told that he must stock his own pond and stop fishing in his neighbor’s pond. The man, who continues to manipulate others, without building up his own vineyard, will turn disparity into chaos. Ponder this parable on the right of ownership:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; and to them he said, “You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last (Matthew 20:1-16).
Mammon, definitely, interferes in a disciple’s mission to stay on the job of evangelizing. Jesus sent out his disciple with these instructions:
After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them out ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come. And he said to the, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages; do not go from house to house. When ever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you got in to its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that lings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that town (Luke 10:1-12).
The urgency of the spreading of the Gospel did not allow the disciple to worry over their next meal. Jesus firmly believed that His Heavenly Father would supply all their needs. Jesus wanted his followers to put their trust in God and not in 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. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit ot his span of life?
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?
Therefore do not be anxious saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day (Matthew 6:24-34).
Mammon is the false gospel of “the ruler of this world,” and with it, Satan can seduce and buy everything the human heart desires, except heaven. The messenger of Satan did not lie to Adam and Eve when he said, “You shall not die” (Genesis 3:4). The breath or the spirit or the soul does not die, only the body does. The King of the “Heavenly Kingdom” has trimmed the wings of Satan, and Satan no longer can ascend into heaven (John 14:30). The “King of Heaven” also has taken away Satan’s power to drag man into Satan’s world (John 12: 31-32). Christ the King has given the believer the power to become a person of God (John 1:12). However, the person must use that power to built him and her a castle in heaven or in the “Kingdom of God.”
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-21).