God and Mammon

Jesus has a few things to say about serving multiple masters, most especially he singles out wealth.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt. 6:24)

“Wealth” is the correct translation of mammon, of course. But how do we serve wealth?

First let’s think about service. We live in a predominantly service economy – we all serve one another in expectations of payment. We talk about soldiers serving their country. In our minds, especially in the US, “service” means “paid work”.

From a spiritual perspective service is never to be done for remuneration. In fact, a spiritual teacher that charges for their “services” is one step away from charlatanism. They certainly are falling for the spiritually dangerous error of corruption, by effectively taking bribes.

Yes, I am well aware we got mouths to feed etc. But someone who serves for a salary is not a servant in the deeper sense of the word. This does not mean that there are no professions which are noble and great and involve serving people for a salary.

The point here is to read these teachings of our Lord with an eye for spiritual development. It would be much better if there was a separate term for “service” – one in a simple material plane, where there is a transaction, and one in the level of spiritual teaching where the only currency is love.

Unpacking Jesus’ words a little more, they can mean something like this: if you start expecting people to pay you to perform certain actions, then you will be focused on how much you can get paid. You will begin to look around to see who pays more. The further you go down this road the more likely you are to focus on yourself and not on others. You will expect to see your worth as synonymous with payment.

Spiritually this is dangerous because the love offering component of service is lost.

What to do if your job is in offering spiritual service – a counselor for example, or a priest?

That is tricky, but I would recommend that a person spend sometime in their mind and in their hearts separating the paid part from the love offering part of their activities. A priest, for example, could see their salary as tied to their good and wise management of the church resources, being a good steward (which in fact it is), but to understand deeply that their preaching, for example, or their visiting people in the hospital, is a love offering – something they do for free, and which they would continue to do for free even if they were accountants, let’s say.

There is a second part to this equation, and that is the giving of gifts. Many women supported Jesus’ ministry. This means they gave money, food, etc. These contributions allowed the fishermen, for example, to leave their jobs and continue to have money to buy food. Gift-giving is a time-honored way of responding in kind to spiritual work given.

The only problem arises when there is an expectation from both sides. One side expects to be paid for a great sermon, while the other side expects a great sermon, or (much more common) private access to the spiritual leader for a price, a donation of a certain amount.

This is moving the whole thing from a prodigal interaction based on the abundance of love to one of limited resources being traded for mutual profit.

It is important as well to realize that wealth is just an example. Any activity which is not a freewilled love offering stops being profitable (hah!) for our spiritual lives.

There is a reason why in the Lord’s Prayer we are instructed to “forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors”…even if you use “trespasses” or “sins” instead of debts, the point being here that we need to be very careful to not pass up opportunities for doing good. More importantly, not holding other people for ransom (emotionally, spiritually, if not monetarily) is work that everyone needs to do daily.

Should we expect payment for doing good? Should I get closer to the good by donating larger sums? Doing good is a freewill love offering to another and to God.


About spaceloom

An urban monk, and an experienced spiritual director with a Masters in Psychology. Married with two children. Want to know me better? Read my thoughts.
This entry was posted in Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink.