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 and 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 over these essentials are not made any easier by Our Lord’s abrupt dismissal of our worry about procuring them. 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 establish what we need truly for our eternal salvation. Thus, 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 redemption and return to God the Father. 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 God’s response to a thirsting world. Like as the hart desireth the waters brooks, so longeth my soul after thee O God. My souls is athirst for God, yea even for the living God. (Psalm xlii. 1,2) To be nourished and transformed by God’s Grace and Divine Virtue, man must seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. (Col. iii. 1) For Christ, what we need is the Divine food and medicine. God has made us for Himself. We must hunger and thirst for His 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 yearn for that spiritual fruit which subverts man’s otherwise earthly obsessions.
Now, of course, 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. Man used to be rational and he used to use his senses to begin the journey after truth. Man used to study nature and the self to discover the truth and to find happiness. And, still, he was restless. Man seeks out a higher truth that yields permanent happiness. Man cannot be content with food and clothing. If true to himself, man insists on finding 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. Today’s world is full of them. Some of them are Christians who have forgotten that they have brains. Another’s Wisdom is needed to satisfy man’s inward hunger and thirst for knowledge and happiness. Christians believe that God’s Wisdom must be made flesh in Jesus Christ as the only spiritual means capable of saving man from becoming a useless wight. God’s way in Jesus Christ is entirely practical. In Jesus Christ, 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. The things of this world are gifts that are the basics that enable us to move inward and upward in spiritual passion and longing back to the author and giver of all good things.
Jesus urges us on to 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 Loving Care for their being 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 emit utter beauty without 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 gives divine 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 loving truth that enlivens and informs all things.
Why do we find this so difficult? We are too comfortable with mammon. Our souls have grown cold and been dulled by the worship of creaturely comforts and earthly joys? We have been rendered slothful because we have forgotten whence we come and whither we go? Are we possessed by Mammon? Mammon is 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 stop putting Mammon first in importance, and to quelch the anxiety that worries about earthly sustenance and 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.
Today, Jesus tells us that we cannot serve God and Mammon. Is not life more than meat, and the body made for more than raiment? (St. Matthew vi. 25) Jesus knows that Mammon has gotten the better of us. We toil and spin so desperately over it that we have become negligent about what God’s Good Providence has in store for us. 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 made a mess out of us all.
This morning let admit that we sow, toil, reap, and spin anxiously 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 moves 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) 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 what faith can secure in this life. Redeeming Love wins for us the greatest treasure. We are made to become invulnerable to the pull of earthly riches. Our Lord has made us for Himself and knows that we are restless until we find Him. (St. Augustine, Confessions) We must find Him forever. We must be willing to lose everything. Losing everything will happen eventually whether we like it or not. For we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. (1 Tim. VI. 7) The Lord calls us to the poverty of being always ready to relinquish everything that is given to us, so that it can be given back to us enhanced and multiplied. (The Beatitudes…S. Tugwell, p. 23) Everything we ever possess is a gift. It was never ours to begin with. When we perish, it will become unreal. We need a gift that is spiritually enhanced and multiplies, better and greater, an indestructible treasure of inestimable value and worth. We have this gift in Jesus Christ, our Life and our Love. Redeeming Love purchases for us a treasure in Heaven that will never perish. Jesus [longs] to immunize us to all unreality…to the prevailing social and economic order, to the dangers that threaten property, limb, and life. He is stripping us for the coming struggle; concentrating our forces and teaching us how to become invulnerable. (Guardini, 182) Jesus intends to anchor our minds and hearts in the reality of God’s Kingdom. (Idem)
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