We Cannot Serve Two Masters — Center for Action and Contemplation

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We Cannot Serve Two Masters

What Do We Do With Money?

We Cannot Serve Two Masters
Monday, September 20, 2021

Fr. Richard continues his reflections on money by considering one of Jesus’ most challenging statements.

Many of us, myself included, have a confused, guilt-ridden, obsessive attitude about money. There’s hardly anybody who can think in a clear-headed way about it. At the end of Luke’s parable of the so-called dishonest steward, Jesus creates a clear dualism between God and wealth, or what he calls “mammon”: “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). Mammon was the god of wealth, money, superficiality, and success. Jesus says, in effect, “You’ve finally got to make a choice.” Most of Jesus’ teaching is what I call nondual—a theme I often teach—but there are a few areas where he’s absolutely dualistic (either-or), and it’s usually anything having to do with power and anything having to do with money.

Jesus is absolute about money and power because he knows what we’re going to do. Most of us will serve this god called mammon. Luke’s Gospel even describes mammon as a type of illness, as Jesuit John Haughey (1930–2019) explained: “Mammon is not simply a neutral term in Luke. It is not simply money. It connotes disorder. . . . Mammon becomes then a source of disorder because people allow it to make a claim on them that only God can make.” [1] “Mammon illness” takes over when we think all of life is counting, weighing, measuring, and deserving. We go to places that have sales, so that we don’t have to give as much to get the same thing. My mother spent much of her time cutting coupons to save ten cents. It was good and even necessary for a while, I guess, but it’s very hard to get rid of that fixation.

To participate in the reign of God, we have to stop counting. We have to stop weighing, measuring, and deserving in order to let the flow of forgiveness and love flow through us. The love of God can’t be doled out by any process whatsoever. We can’t earn it. We can’t lose it. As long as we stay in this world of earning and losing, we’ll live in perpetual resentment, envy, or climbing.

Religion cannot work from a calculator without losing its very method, mind, foundation, and source. Surely this is what Jesus meant by his statement in Luke’s Gospel. Perhaps if we say it a bit differently, we can all get the point: “You cannot move around inside the world of Infinite Grace and Mercy, and at the same time be counting and measuring with your overly defensive and finite little mind.” It would be like asking an ant to map the galaxies. St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897) put it much more directly to a nun worried about God keeping track of her many failings: “There is a science about which [God] knows nothing—addition!” [2] The reign of God is a worldview of abundance. God lifts us up from a worldview of scarcity to infinity. Remember every part of infinity is still infinite! God’s love is nothing less than infinite.

[1] John C. Haughey, The Holy Use of Money: Personal Finance in Light of Christian Faith (Doubleday and Company: 1986), 11.

[2] Sœur Thérèse of Lisieux: The Little Flower of Jesus, ed. T. N. Taylor (Burns and Oates, Ltd.: 1912), 241. This early translation of Thérèse’s autobiography, The Story of a Soul, includes “Counsels and Reminiscences,” a chapter not part of recent editions.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Money,” homily, September 22, 2019; and

What Do We Do with Money?, unpublished notes, 2020.

Story from Our Community:
I was raised poor in Newark, New Jersey, in the 1950s. Society held me down for years. . . until I listened to God, went to college (at night while working), and became a teacher and college professor. I refused to be labeled a failure by those whose only power comes from money. This power is not lasting. Who you are, who I am is eternal; this is the true power that only God can bestow. —Russell C.

Image credit: Raul Diaz, Lamp Posts (detail), 2012, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: Identical lampposts are all in an ordered, symmetrical row, like a factory output of goods for our uncontrolled consumption. Both money and spirituality are tools, neither good nor bad. If they become weapons for manipulation, they have the potential to harm deeply.
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