Luke 16:9-15 - God and Money
Jesus said to his disciples: "I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him. And he said to them, "You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God."
Money means power, security, success, comfort. All these things are good in their right place and in the just measure. It is not hard to see, however, how they can occupy the wrong place in life and take on an unjust measure. This is when money becomes a god, and that is what Jesus means when He refers to money as “the mammon.” The common character of power, security, success, and comfort is that they promise control. Money promises control.
Ultimately, one wants to be in control in order to protect or ensure a good.
The way Jesus speaks about these things today suggests that He is not thinking about any random good, but about the ultimate good in life. In order to understand today’s message, we can, therefore, ask ourselves what this ultimate good in life is for us. Once that is determined, ask yourself how much you can control the fulfillment of that good. Is the vigorous attempt to guarantee control really conducive to the ultimate good of life?
Jesus reminds you that you can only serve one God. That means that you have a choice to make: Do you want to pursue happiness by trying to gain total control in order to take your final good? Or, do you expect to receive your final good from someone else? In the first case, you will need a “god” which you can control and oblige to cater to your necessities: money, power, security, success, comfort… In case you are looking for something in life which money cannot buy, you must realize that control is not the road to fulfillment. The goods which God gives, are not produced by mechanisms of merit, effort, or control. God gives freely. God gives with love. God gives out of mercy. If you choose God, you choose to expect to receive the higher goods from Him. Freely. This "logic" is essentially different from the "logic of money." The highest goods we cannot control or take. We can only receive them as a gift.
It seems that, in today’s gospel, Jesus criticizes the tendency to apply the logic of money to the relationship with God. He marks that behavior as “an abomination in the sight of God.” If someone is completely given to the logic of money, according to which goods are achieved by controlling material values, he will be blinded for the logic of love, according to which goods are achieved by giving freely and without expecting benefits. As we can read in the first lines of the gospel, Jesus does not criticize money or richness as such but exhorts us to use it wisely. What wisdom is that? He suggests that the “logic” with which we pursue the small goods of the material world will influence our “logic” of pursuing greater goods. In this sense, there can only be one “logic” to define us: Either the logic of love influences the way how we deal with money, or the logic of money influences the way we love. Choose your logic. Choose your god.