Today's Gospel calls us to "think over" the same question. Are we so attached to our money and our material things that we would would be willing to risk giving up our lives? Jesus tells us: "You cannot serve God and mammon." So, whom do we serve?
To be sure, God gives us the gift of free will, so we have the freedom to choose between God or mammon, but we can’t choose both. We cannot live according to the flesh and to the spirit because the two are opposed. One wants to master the other, and no one should fool themselves into thinking they can serve both. Just as it is impossible to join two magnets of opposite poles, it is impossible to serve both masters because one is always pitted against the other.
Jesus is not condemning money or even wealth. Money is an important tool. He expects us to work for our daily needs, to make provisions for our future, and to support the needs of others. All of us need money to provide for our families, to save for our children’s education, and hopefully for a decent retirement.
Mammon implies more than that. Mammon means greed, unjust gain, the pursuit of money and wealth made an end in itself. When money becomes our ultimate value, the object of our worship, we have chosen the god of mammon over the God who created us.
But wait a minute! What’s wrong with competing with my neighbor for the bigger house, the faster car, and the nicer clothes? Isn’t that the American dream?
Actually, it’s the perversion of the dream. The idea of the American Dream was never greed or materialism. Rather, the American Dream is rooted in the Declaration of Independence where it proclaims that all men are created equal, and that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Immigrants from around the globe flock to this country because we are a place where everyone has the opportunity to pursue a life of happiness, regardless of our social class or the color of our skin. We are a nation that cherishes freedom – the freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of worship.
But Hollywood has re-defined the American Dream to mean something else, something much more shallow and superficial. Hollywood seems to measure a person’s value by how we look and what we wear. Today's culture pushes us to Keep up with the Kardashians.
We know we can’t keep up with the Kardashians, but there is still enormous pressure to keep with the Joneses. Hey, my neighbor just got a new car, so by golly, I got to buy a nicer one. My friend just got back from vacation, so I need to plan a better one.
This mentality leads us to live beyond our means. And before we know it, we have become a slave to debt. Working longer hours to make the payment on the house I can’t afford. Working a second job just to make the minimum payments on all the credit cards I've maxed out. So mammon is not just excessive wealth, it’s also overwhelming debt. Being a slave to debt is the same as being a slave to the god of mammon.
When we are slaves to debt, our families suffer. Our physical, emotional and spiritual health suffer. We become absent parents, always working, no time for our children. We pacify our children with an iPad and an X-Box. Mammon becomes a jealous god that demands all of our energy, consumes our life and corrupts the soul.
We all know someone who is so poor, they only thing they have left is…a lot of money. They have forsaken their family for personal enrichment, sold their integrity to the highest bidder, and surrendered their soul to despair.
One of my colleagues lost everything in his life – everything, except his money. And he had just finished a new deal that was going to bring him a lot more money. But right after he closed this new deal, for reasons only God knows, he took his own life. Even though he was worth a fortune, he died poor and lonely. Not even a million dollars could buy him an ounce of happiness or hope.
Throughout the ages, mankind has searched for an answer to this question:
Do we trust in God? Or do we trust in man?
And here's the answer: Our soul will never be satisfied, our heart will never rest, until we find God and rest in Him.
That we are to trust in God was not lost on the founders of our nation. The United States Supreme Court, having acknowledged that our nation's institutions "presuppose a Supreme Being," opened the door for Congress to adopt "In God we trust" as the official motto of the United States. The United States Code, Title 36 U.S.C. § 302, reads: "'In God we trust' is the national motto." In God we trust is also stamped on all US coins and bills, as a reminder that we are to trust in God, not in money or mammon.
Just a few years ago, Congress passed a resolution reaffirming "In God we trust" as the official motto of the United States. In an otherwise hopelessly polarized Congress, the vote was 396 in favor to only 9 who opposed. A small sign of hope!
Here’s the thing. When money and the accumulation of wealth become the focus of our existence...the purpose of our life...we end up following a mirage in the desert. The god of Mammon has us chasing the end of the rainbow for a pot of gold we will never find. Instead we find anxiety, depression, and despair.
So, if we find ourselves stressed out chasing the end of the rainbow, or becoming a slave to debt, without enough time for our families, without time for prayer, without time to serve others, maybe it's time to revisit the question asked of Jack Benny - your money or your life?