Ye cannot serve God and Mammon (St. Matthew vi: 24)
Our Gospel lesson appointed for today comes to us from the Sermon on the Mount. And like all the lections of Trinity Tide, it helps us to understand our sanctification or our habituation to virtue. Today’s lesson is hard to study because it involves our relationship with two necessities of life, food and clothing. And our anxiety and worry over these essentials are not made any easier by Our Lord’s abrupt dismissal of their acquisition and retention. He appears far more concerned with the spiritual food and raiment that will nourish and clothe our souls. He warns us: You cannot serve God and mammon. (St. Matthew vi. 24) Simply put: You cannot serve God if you are also serving mammon. And He condemns the idolatry of mammon because He insists that God will provide us with all our earthly needs.
Perhaps we can better understand all of this if we recall the main reason for Jesus Christ’s Incarnation. He has come down from Heaven to enable us to get right with God the Father for our salvation. He has come down from Heaven to overcome our slavery to sin and a world full of false gods. Fallen man is a spiritual schizophrenic. The frailty of man without [God] cannot but fall, we read in today’s Collect. Indeed, the problem is that we are frail and fallen and thus we are torn between God and Mammon. Christ comes first and foremost to feed and clothe us with God’s holiness and righteousness so that we might be saved. What He longs to procure for us is the means that ensure our salvation. As Romano Guardini puts it, From the abundance otherwise reserved for Heaven, Jesus brings Divine reality to earth. He is the stream of living water from the eternal source of the Father’s love to a thirsting world. From ‘above’ he establishes the new existence that is impossible to establish from below, existence which, seen only from the natural and earthly level, must seem subversive and incoherent. (The Lord, p. 82) Christ comes down from Heaven to share the Eternal Treasure of God’s love with us. This is what we call Grace. That loving power is the Treasure of spiritual food and drink that makes a man hale and hearty for salvation. And yet, this Treasure is never forced upon us. If a man desires to be fed and clothed by God’s Grace and changed by Divine Virtue, he must seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. (Col. iii. 1) So, Christ intends to habituate us to the Divine Reality, the Reality of God. God has made us to know and love Him. This is our real food and drink. From the Father alone flows that living water that not only sustains mere existence but promises to make life better spiritually through the soul’s discovery of its true nature and destiny. From the Father alone can we learn to grow and harvest that spiritual fruit, which is the knowledge and love of God.
And it is not as if man hasn’t longed for this salvation or some form of it throughout human history. The ancient pagan philosopher Aristotle taught his students that all men by nature desire to know (980 a21), and that man naturally seeks happiness. (1097b) We men are not mere animals. We also possess the desire to seek for happiness and knowledge. Rational men use their sense perceptions to inquire after truth. In all aspects of life, we study nature and ourselves in order to discover the truth and to find happiness. But, if we are normal, still we are restless. Still, we seek for higher truth and more lasting happiness. Surely, we are not content with food and clothing. If we are true to ourselves, our souls seek to find first principles and even God. Aristotle quotes Hesiod when he writes:
Far best is he who knows all things himself;
Good, he that hearkens when men counsel right;
But he who neither knows, nor lays to heart
Another's wisdom, is a useless wight. (1095 b10)
A useless wight is a fool who settles for very little. Christians believe that in God alone Another’s Wisdom is found that will satisfy man’s inward spiritual hunger and thirst for knowledge and happiness. Christians believe that God’s Wisdom must be made flesh in Jesus Christ and offered to man as the only spiritual means capable of saving him from becoming a useless wight. Of course, God’s way in Jesus Christ is entirely practical. In Him, we are called to see this world as no end in itself, but a created good that must be used only in so far as it advances our salvation in Jesus Christ. The things of this world are gifts that secure us so that we might move inward and upward in spiritual passion, longing, and desire back to the author and giver of all good things.
Jesus urges us on to the effort of seeking the Supreme Good of God by reminding us, in an Aristotelian way, that God is the Mover and Definer of all things. He is our generous Father who forever loves and cares for us. Consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Stop, he urges, if you are indeed consumed with this world. Look at nature, look at the flowers, the animals, and the fowl of the air. All of nature is held in my Father’s loving hand. Nature is providentially ordered by Him. He feeds it, sustains, colors, beatifies, informs, and defines it. Each unique nature is defined by my Father’s Wisdom and enlivened by His ceaseless loving care. None of these creatures is anxious about anything. The birds neither sow nor reap and my Father feeds them. The lilies neither toil nor spin, and Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed by my Father like one of these. (St. Matthew vi. 26-29) Jesus brings before us the created things of this world and shows that they hang entirely upon the Father’s Wisdom and Love for their existence and beauty. He shows us that God orders all of nature providentially. He reminds us that the birds of the air are anxious over nothing and are fed. Similarly, the lilies of the field emanate with utter beauty and not the slightest effort or toil. God provides for them, and would do the same for us, if only we would have faith and trust in Him. See and believe, Christ urges us today. Faith in God begins with openness to what surrounds us. We are bidden to slow down, stop, and behold how God enlivens and quickens, orders and defines, and even gives immense beauty to all of His creatures and the universe itself. See and believe that God is at work in His world. Christ tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all other things shall be added to you. (St. Matthew vi. 33) Faith in Christ means following Him, through nature and then beyond it, up and into the transcendent truth and love that enliven and inform all things.
Yet why do we find this so difficult to do? Are we enslaved to the means of securing only limited and impermanent kinds of happiness? Have our souls grown cold and been dulled by the worship of creaturely comforts and earthly joys? Have we been rendered slothful because we have forgotten whence we come and whither we go? Are we possessed by Mammon? Mammon is, as R.D. Crouse reminds us, a false God, and the service of Mammon is idolatry. And it is the essence of idolatry to trust the things of the world as though they were a final and ultimate significance. Idolatry is the worship of worldly things, and it is a subtle, but constant, ever-present danger to the spiritual lives of all of us. (Parochial Sermons: RC) If we wish to find our way out of the worship of Mammon, and away from the anxiety that worries about earthly riches, we must tend first to the good of our souls. We must see and understand that created things, Mammon, really can never make us happy in any lasting and significant way.
So, Jesus asks us today why we are serving Mammon and not God. He wonders why we pursue creaturely comfort more than His Kingdom. Is not life more than meat, and the body made for more than raiment? (St. Matthew vi. 25) He wonders if the Mammon hasn’t gotten the better of us so that we are toiling and spinning so desperately over it that we have become negligent about what God’s Good Providence has in store for us? Or do we toil and spin because we have become so at home in this world that we have forgotten that we were made for another? Mammon has the ability to make a mess out of us all. Thus, we postpone, neglect, or reject outright our pursuit of God’s Supreme Goodness in Jesus Christ.
This morning let us stop sowing, reaping, toiling, and spinning over earthly gods and their fleeting promises. Nature herself silently urges us to imitate her absolute dependence upon God! The Goodness of God is so free and diffusive that its runs over and fills a world full of creatures which all hang upon Him. He duly feeds them and gives them as much as they crave. He enlivens and quickens even those who never call upon His name and worship His glory. God’s Goodness enlivens, moves, informs, and defines us all. He makes the sun to shine upon the evil and the good.
But we cannot leave it here. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. (Idem) We must not worship the creature rather than the Creator. O how great is thy goodness that thou hast laid up for them that fear thy name. For there is a loving kindness in God that is better than this life and all its choicest comforts. Redeeming Love is the highest love. Redeeming Love wins for us the greatest treasure. Our world is made not to be worshiped but to be redeemed. Our Lord has made us for Himself and knows that we are restless until we find Him. How do we find him? We go with Him to the Cross. What must we do? Pray that His victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil becomes our own death. How do we have it? Through a small piece of bread and a tiny sip of wine. Food and Drink. Health and Happiness. Body and Blood. The elements that feed and clothe us with all of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. So simple and yet so profound. This is the love that is as deep as the human heart and as broad as the universe. This is the love that must feed us and clothe us in such a way that this treasure gives us the greatest foretaste of eternal knowledge and happiness.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons