February 19, 2017

Reflection on Matthew 6:24-34, "You cannot serve God and mammon…"

Jesus preaching

The Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 26, 2017

By Father Bernard Bourgeois

Leviticus 19:1, 2, 17, 18; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 6:24-34

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and
all these things will be given you besides." (Mt 6:33)

Originally published, February 2011

As I sit to write this column, it is New Year’s Day. What will this year bring? Like everyone who is reading this column, I am a natural worrier. I spend a lot of time and energy worrying about things over which I have little if any control. As a Catholic high school principal, I worry about budgets, enrollment, staffing, strategic planning, and a host of other issues that at times overwhelm me. You who are reading this column can make your own list of issues that worry you. I am sure that primary among your concerns would be employment, the economy, your children and their needs and decisions, and whatever else. Before reading further, it might be helpful to take a moment and write a list of the things that worry you the most.

In the Gospel for this Sunday (Mt 6:24-34), Jesus teaches the following: “You cannot serve God and mammon… . Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you wear… . Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” Wow! What an extraordinary statement! Jesus does not want his followers to worry about tomorrow’s needs, or what they will eat or wear in the future. Jesus makes this a condition of discipleship. Why? The first statement of the quote from Matthew says it all: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” “Mammon” is an Aramaic word meaning wealth or property, and signifies a choice that is not of God, but one driven by greed and avarice.

Jesus knows human nature so well. He knows that the human person can only concentrate on one thing at once. I do not think Jesus would have agreed with the modern notion that multitasking is a virtue! Jesus wants his people to concentrate on what matters most. Look beyond the day-to-day concerns of food and clothing and see the bigger picture, says Jesus in the Gospels. He advises his followers to focus their attention on God, the creator and sustainer of all that is. Food and clothing pale in comparison to the love of God shown through Jesus Christ.

Fully concentrating on day-to-day living issues can lead one away from God. If food, clothing, and shelter become the priority, the person will never have enough or be satisfied with what he or she has right now. In the consumer society in which we live today, there is always the temptation for bigger, more expensive, the latest fashion or technology, and the most popular. Any of these whims could change tomorrow, and the cycle begins anew. This is why Jesus says the person cannot serve both God and mammon! Serving mammon will take one’s full undivided attention and all of one’s resources.

Instead, Jesus wants his followers to focus on God and his call to a life based in him and his teachings. These are the things that are permanent! Food, clothing, and shelter are all perishable in the end. What is not perishable is one’s relationship with God. It takes a certain maturity in faith to look beyond the perishable and concentrate solely on God. For the person who does, life takes on new meaning. The latest whims of the market take on less priority. Learning to live with what one has becomes easier and one has the ability to live well with less.

It is only in prayer that this attitude toward worldly things can be achieved. Food, clothing, and shelter take on less importance in the face of prayer and of being in the presence of God. One realizes rather quickly that those things don’t matter as much, and more importantly, if one makes a conscious decision to spend more time with God, the rest takes care of itself. At the realization that all things come from God, the person becomes very satisfied with what is, and does not look to the latest fashion or whim. The list of worries begins to shrink because the disciple believes the list is in God’s hands, and that in his time all concerns and issues will be remedied. It is the goal of every follower of Jesus Christ to set his or her sights on him alone, and allow him to direct, guide, and supply his followers with all they need in this life and, most importantly, with life eternal.