Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
July 29, 2018
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
This lesson from Jesus clearly teaches against greed. Greed is forbidden in the ninth and tenth commandments, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.” and “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” The prohibition to covet is often looked at as the least of God’s commands, being tagged on to the end of the Decalogue. Yet, Jesus’ warning against greed is nothing short of a warning against breaking the greatest commandment God gives. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment.” In this greatest commandment we are given the meaning of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” How do you have no other gods before the LORD God? By loving the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and mind.
Martin Luther correctly teaches in his Large Catechism concerning the First Commandment: Whatever you fear, love, and trust in most is your god. Most people don’t think this way, but it is true. Most Christians figure that if they aren’t worshiping a golden statue or praying in a Mosque then they are obeying the first and greatest commandment. But there is another false god with far more followers than any other idol: Mammon.
Mammon is the Aramaic word for worldly possessions or money. Aramaic was Jesus’ mother tongue. Mammon has far more devotees than any other religion, because people from all walks of life around the world serve mammon; fear, love, and trust in mammon above all things. People believe that if they have enough money they will be secure and safe. It’s simple mathematics. Mammon is such a persuasive god, people sacrifice their time, friends, wife, children, even their bodies to obtain more money. And the only thing money can buy will perish.
So, why does Jesus tell a parable, where the main character is commended for his unwavering devotion to mammon? “The master commended the unrighteous manager for his schrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Jesus does not tell us this parable so that we will cheat, lie, and steal to gain more money, like the manager in our lesson. Rather, Jesus shames us Christians for being less diligent toward our God than the mammon worshipers are toward theirs.
St. Paul warns us in our Epistle lesson, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” We live in an urgent time. Christ will return like a thief in the night and judge the living and the dead. On that day we will face eternity and we need to be ready. Yet, we’re lazy. We slack off as if we have all the time in the world. Christians, for the most part, don’t take their devotion to Christ as seriously as those who worship this creation. The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with this generation than the sons of light; to our shame.
So, what shall we pathetic Christians do in response to this embarrassing rebuke? Jesus says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Is Jesus telling us to cheat our employers and use bribes so that people will receive us into their homes as the manager in his parable did? Certainly not. Jesus is not telling us to cheat and bribe the rich so that we can benefit here on earth. He tells us to make friends by means of unrighteous mammon, so that we can be welcomed into the eternal dwellings. The rich can’t give you eternal dwellings no matter how much you suck up to them. And you can’t buy these eternal dwellings no matter how much money you scrounge.
Mammon isn’t in and of itself bad. It is unrighteous, because it cannot give you eternal life. But mammon, like all creation is a gift from God. All things are made holy by the word of God and prayer. Yet nothing in creation should be an object of your worship, not even your father, mother, son, daughter, wife, or husband. Yet all these things and people can be used for service in the kingdom of God! By telling us to make friends with unrighteous mammon, Jesus is telling us not to have mammon our god, but rather to make mammon our servant and as such a servant to the kingdom of heaven.
There is a big difference between serving mammon and having mammon serve you. Mammon is a terrible master; a cruel god. Mammon is unforgiving, unmerciful; it’ll betray you to your worst enemy. It demands complete devotion your entire life and then abandons you when you die. And we see people racing after it all around us; bowing to it; slaving for it. Children don’t know their fathers, because their fathers devote all their time searching for money. Worse, children don’t know their heavenly father, because their parents search after money instead of teaching them about Jesus; money for bicycles, sports, camp, vacations, fancy clothes; money to give them the best life they can live here on this sinful earth. But money can’t buy Jesus or his forgiveness. Serving mammon is slavery, which leads to death.
Serving God is freedom, which leads to eternal life. And with such freedom, you can make mammon your servant. This is what Jesus is telling us to do. Make friends with unrighteous mammon. Make the mammon holy by how you use it. You do this by recognizing that all you have from your head to your toes, from your bank account to your coin purse is from God. He has given you all you need in this life. It belongs to him. And as a free child of God, you use all that you have, your skills, time, and money in God’s service. All you do as a Christian should be in love toward God and in service toward your neighbor.
Now, who will welcome you into your eternal dwelling? Well, those are your fellow Christians. Jesus says in his familiar end times lesson in Matthew chapter 25, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” It is the least of Jesus’ brothers, who will welcome us into our eternal homes; Christians, whom we have served in this life with unrighteous mammon made holy by being put to work by free children of God!
Of course, we can’t look at people and know whether they will join us in heavenly bliss. And Jesus commands us to love even our enemies and pray for them. Yet, it is clear how Jesus wants us to treat our fellow lambs. He wants us to care for them. Watch out for their needs. Be generous. Feed, clothe, and help the poor. Support the preaching of the Gospel and missions. What does God want you to do with the mammon he has given you? Do you think he might want you to use it as an instrument to grow his church, to support missions and Christian education? God wants you to be generous with those in need, especially those within the household of God. That is how you make friends with unrighteous mammon; friends who will welcome you into your eternal dwelling.
The manager in our lesson was clever, no doubt. But he had something going for him that was essential to the success of his scheme. His master was very generous. And he wanted everyone to know that he was generous. He didn’t rescind his manager’s adjustments to his debtor’s debts, because he wanted all his debtors to believe that he was generous; which he was. He was even generous enough to give his manager time to cheat him instead of throwing him into prison immediately.
We are all managers of what we have. We don’t really own it. God does. We’re stewards of God’s gifts. God is generous. He will take care of you. Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and the rest will be added unto you.” God will feed you and clothe you. He’ll provide you with all you need to support your body and life. He wants you to believe that he is generous. And he wants you to be generous with what he entrusts to you.
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is unrighteous in a very little is also unrighteous in much. If then you have not been faithful in unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” Mammon is very little, no matter how much you get. It’s just unrighteous wealth. But Jesus does have true riches for you. And he is even more generous with his true riches.
As God wants you to be generous with your unrighteous wealth, making friends with those you will see in heaven, even more he wants you to be generous with true riches, which Christ Jesus has won for you. True riches come in the form of the forgiveness of sins, which you receive through Jesus’ Word and Sacraments from Jesus’ cross. God’s greatest generosity is seen where Christ sheds his blood for sinners. Through faith in Christ, you have riches that cannot be measured on earth. And as you have been given these riches freely, so Christ wants you to give them freely as well, by forgiving others, putting the best construction on things and not getting unreasonably angry, by sharing Christ’s love through patience and through sharing the Gospel.
You can’t buy eternal life with money. Neither can you earn it with your generosity toward others. But if you trust in Jesus through faith, you are free to lord over unrighteous wealth for the benefit of the kingdom, which you will inherit. Christ has set you free to be a child and heir of his kingdom. Do not become a slave to mammon. Amen.