No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon [Wealth].
We humans desperately try and make things easy for ourselves. Jesus can say things which are incredibly difficult to wrap our head around, such as the Parable of the Lost Coin, and boil it down into a single thought, such as Jesus searches for the lost, because it is easier to understand that way.
But then paradoxically, we complicate things which should be easy to understand. Such as it is with Luke 16:13. It seems to me Jesus is being pretty straight forward. You cannot serve two masters; you cannot serve God and Wealth (Mammon). Wealth/Mammon is here set up in opposition to God as a sort of entity which commands our allegiance. It is an “idolatrous power” which requires unwavering loyalty.
We don’t want it that way. We want to be able to have both. We want both God and
Wealth. And if I can read the tea leaves correctly, generally we put our trust in wealth for basically one reason: security. We want to feel secure and it provides the means for us. We want to escape harm and struggle and we feel wealth can help us in the fight against those perceived threats.
The problem this line of thinking is it buys into exactly what Jesus is talking about! In valuing our own security over all else, we create an idol. We worship wealth, what it provides, and we turn it into Mammon, an idol in competition with the One True God. For Jesus, “the worship of possessions and a clinging to them as ultimate means separation from God” (Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991, 248). We cling to our wealth and create a chasm between us and God.
Now I would be remiss if I didn’t engage in some sort of confession here. I’ve used the 1st person plural form, “we,” very intentionally. This is something I struggle with too. I have my problems with Mammon: student/credit card debt, jealousy over others’ vacations, the want for new golf clubs, purchasing clothes made in sweat shops, to name a few. Very often my loyalty is skewed the way it should not be, at least according to Jesus. Repeatedly, I worship at the altar of Mammon, instead of at the Table.
If you’re like me, maybe you need to print off this passage and plaster it everywhere so we can remember. Maybe we need the daily reminder of choosing God over Wealth. Maybe we need to remind ourselves true loyalty is about making small daily decisions. By being faithful in the little things, we can be faithful in the big things. Hopefully, then, our lives will be transformed outside in.
May it be so this day.