Heads you win and tails you lose, or you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Turn the other cheek, and give to Cesar what is Cesar’s and to God what is Gods. Light and darkness, good and evil. God and Mammon. Dichotomies. From today’s readings comes “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Mt 6:24-34 Mammon is not a word that enters into contemporary vocabulary, except when this reading comes around. Often the word Mammon is simply translated money. Is that accurate, I am really not quite certain.
Today’s reading comes after the Sermon on the Mount and is part of a segment where Jesus presents a series of teachings to the disciples. God and mammon are part of that list. The teachings location in both the Gospel and the calendar are important. In the gospel it gives instruction on Christian behavior. On the Calendar, the reading is presented a week before Lent. The word Mammon is not used much today and it does not have a direct translation in the English language. Let’s try to describe it, but first let’s look at the world from an ancient viewpoint.
In the ancient world view, our current life is but one part of a physical existence. If one were an explorer, or spelunkers, and could find the right cave; they could find the entrance to hell. That landscape existed beneath our feet as solid as the ground we walk upon.
If one had a ladder of sufficient height, given the proper engineering technology, one could step from this earth into heaven. The two were separated by the ancient space aged polymer-ceramic-metallic composite monolithic domed superstructure named “the firmament.” A modern illustration could be the three level apartment building. The basement apartment a sheer hell, the ground level a tolerable existence, and the penthouse heavenly. One could also use the three stack pancake example in honor of Shrove Tuesday, we live in the middle pancake. God in the penthouse, we on the ground is probably a better example. This is a good example of how the original gospel audience viewed their world. God and Mammon.
This is one example of God and Mammon, God resided in one place and mammon another. There is another example , and the calendar gives hint of it. It is just before Lent and that is carnival season. Carnival for Carnivore for flesh eater, for the flesh. Mammon resides in the world if the flesh, but is the flesh the only part of the body? What about the soul? Life is after all a union of body and soul, a mingling of spirit and flesh; of heaven and earth. In an ancient world it was not just the body that could die, the soul could too. Dying and tortured souls were trapped in that basement apartment. A soul that stumbled landed on the ground level. A person’s body can live while their soul has died, and a body can die while the soul lives eternally. Mammon is not just a focus on money, it is a focus on earthly concerns. It is an ignorance of the Heavenly, and a flirtation with the devil. Think of what Carnival gives emphasis to, and what Lent strengthens one against. Angels and Devils; Devils are fallen angels. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.” Not a bad thing to remember when thinking of God and Mammon.
It might be good to give focus to the first reading of Isaiah; Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; my LORD has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” Is 49:14-15 The short passage reminds that God does not forget us, and might serve to remind us not to forget God. Jesus in His teaching reminds us not to fall trap to this world, and if our priorities are focused on God; God will provide. God will provide abundantly. The readings of this day give reminder to focus on the messages of Lent, and not simply or blindly fall for the celebrations of carnival. It is a reminder to place priorities in the proper order, and that is the ultimate goal of the Lenten season that is about to begin.