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September 2001

No one can serve two masters: for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Luke 16:13)

Here Jesus' teaching is about the use of wealth, and Luke, who is the evangelist of the poor, reiterates Jesus' views. The term 'mammon' is an Aramaic word meaning material goods, but here it is used by Jesus in a negative sense for the whole collection of treasures which can take the place of God in human hearts.

The dangerous thing about wealth is that you can 'fall in love' with it to the point that it demands all your time and energy to keep it and increase it. Wealth can become an idol to which everything is sacrificed. For this reason Jesus compares it to a master who is so exacting that he excludes all others. This is why Jesus asks us to make a choice with no compromises.

No one can serve two masters: for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Jesus's words must not sound like a condemnation of wealth in itself, but of the exclusive place it can hold in the human heart. He does not ask everyone for absolute poverty, in an external sense, and in fact there were rich people among his disciples, like Joseph of Arimathea. What he does ask is detachment from our goods. The rich should not consider themselves so much the masters as the administrators of the goods they own, which belong primarily to God and are meant not only for the privileged few but for all people.

Wealth is an excellent means if it serves people in need, if it helps to do good, if it is used for social aims, not only through works of charity but also in the management of business. Only in this way can we use our goods without becoming enslaved by them.

There is the great danger of accumulating wealth for oneself. And we know only too well from the experience of history how much being attached to the goods of this earth can corrupt and distance people from God. So we should not be surprised by Jesus' challenge: either we choose God or wealth.

No one can serve two masters: for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

How can we put this word into practice?

Apart from clarifying where we stand regarding wealth, this word, like every word of God, says much more to us. Jesus does not offer us the choice of God or mammon. He says clearly that in our life we must choose God.

Perhaps, up until now, we have not made this choice. Perhaps we have allowed a bit of faith in him, some religious practices and some love of neighbour to be mixed in with many other small or great riches that fill our heart.

By taking stock of ourselves,' we can see whether what really matters to us is our work, the family, study, a good standard of living, our health or many other human things, that we love for themselves or for ourselves, but without any reference to God. If this is how things are, our heart is already enslaved, founded on idols, large and small, that are incompatible with God.

What can we do about this? We can come to a decision, and say to him that we want nothing other than to love him with all our heart, with all our mind and with all our strength. And then we can make the effort to translate this decision into practice, which is not difficult if we do it moment by moment, now, in the present of our life, by loving everything and everyone only for God.

Chiara Lubich

 

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