The Trouble with Mammon
We’re living in pretty anxious times, it seems. We’re probably used to news of tragedies in far away places and may even find some level of comfort in imagining that such things don’t happen here. News closer to home, however, dispels this myth that we are somehow immune from catastrophic loss. Record-setting wildfires completely consume places that we know well. Torrential rains, that we hear will come more frequently, completely overwhelm cities where millions of people live, drowning individuals in their own homes and sweeping others away. The question of climate change, once thought to be a far-off possibility, now takes center stage and begs the question of whether humanity can find its way to a workable solution. And the pandemic? What we thought would be a long road to a permanent and viable solution seems to be developing into an almost endless journey, hampered by an intractable inability for us to trust the very institutions charged with our safety.
It’s no wonder that some of us try to push all of these stories – and more – to the back of our minds where they simmer like slow-cooking stew pots of uncertainty. We have other, more pressing issues to face. It’s the day-to-day challenges that keep us up at night or make us wish we could just stay in bed. The challenge of a new school year where much of what we took as routine seems to need almost constant re-negotiation. A collection of responsibilities and projects to which we agreed that have now generated a to-do list that leaves us not knowing where to start. The nagging suspicion that others will judge us for our lack of excellence while we watch their carefully curated lives of beauty and accomplishment on social media. The grief of multiple losses that rides along almost silently in the back seat of our souls until it cries out at the most inopportune moment. Our anxieties. Somedays, it seems like we’re in the business of collecting them.
So, when Jesus tells us in the sixth chapter of Matthew “do not worry about your life,” we might conclude that he was either not paying close attention to reality or – perhaps more charitably – living in another time when things were very different from what they are now. After all, the assurance that Jesus gives, that “our heavenly Father knows our need and will provide,” doesn’t seem to pan out in every situation, does it?
Jesus starts this section of the Sermon on the Mount by setting a choice before us. We either worship God or “mammon,” as the King James translation has it. More contemporary translations make it “wealth,” “riches,” or “money.” But “mammon,” which is not a translation at all but a rendering of the Aramaic word that Jesus actually used, almost sounds like a personification – like an idol. The word means “assets” or “possessions” and, while we’re uncertain as to the word’s origins, some scholars believe that it derives from a Hebrew word which means “that in which one trusts.”
It’s this insight that breaks open what Jesus is getting at.
Jesus doesn’t deny the necessity of all of food and clothing, shelter and health. He tells his original audience of subsistence farmers, fishermen and small shopkeepers that God is well aware of their need.
The question is not of need, but trust.
It’s not a question of need but of worship.
Every day, life teaches us that the things we value are fundamentally unreliable. Everything, even the most seemingly durable assets, come and go like the wind. This can leave us really anxious! In what can we possibly trust if nothing is trustworthy?
This is Jesus’ point. Rather than building our trust in objects that come and go within creation, he calls us to trust the creator – the one whose investment is the whole of creation including our very lives. On days when the instability of it all threatens our joyful confidence, the Bible teaches us that our heavenly Father has already provided for our eternal needs, clothing us with Christ’s righteousness in baptism and feeding us through his holy meal with his own body, a feeding which incorporates us into a holy community that practices God’s gracious care in real time.
So, when you feel anxious because the things that you were counting on don’t seem to be showing up or have been ruthlessly taken from you, I encourage you to not suffer alone. Take the risk of letting someone in on your secret and, together, may you find your way to a place of more confident trust that Christ Jesus knows your suffering and that all that is needful will be provided.
Sept. 8, 2021
Have a secret you want to share?
You can anonymously and creatively express any secrets, regrets, fears, desires, or talents you might otherwise hide, through PostSecretU on campus. It’s a program intended to support and build positive conversations regarding mental health. Our university library has a semester-long project in which you’re invited to create an anonymous postcard and drop it in a box; after review, the postcards will be displayed in the CCLIR gallery hallway. A box and extra postcards will be available soon in the Chapel narthex.
And if you have something weighing on your mind that you’d like to talk to one of the university pastors about, Pastor Jim and Pastor Kate are committed to providing excellent spiritual care for the entire University community.
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