GOSPEL COMMENTARY. “YOU CANNOT SERVE GOD AND MAMMON” (Lk 16:9-15).
Faithfulness in little things and a heart undivided
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.”
Gospel Commentary from the Navarre Bible, St. Luke (with permission)
- 9-11 “Unrighteous mammon” means temporal goods which have been obtained in some unjust, unrighteous way.
- However, God is very merciful: even this unjust wealth can enable a person to practise virtue by making restitution, by paying for the damage done and then by striving to help his neighbour by giving alms, by creating work opportunities etc.
- This was the case with Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, who undertook to restore fourfold anything he had unjustly taken, and also to give half his wealth to the poor. On hearing that, our Lord specifically declared that salvation had that day come to that house (cf. Lk 19:1-10).
- Our Lord speaks out about faithfulness in very little things, referring to riches — which really are insignificant compared with spiritual wealth.
- If a person is faithful and generous and is detached in the use he makes of these temporal riches, he will, at the end of his life, receive the reward of eternal life, which is the greatest treasure of ill, and a permanent one.
- Besides, by its very nature human life is a fabric of little things: anyone who fails to give them their importance will never be able to achieve great things. “Everything in which we poor men have a part — even holiness — is a fabric of small trifles which, depending upon one’s intention, can form a magnificent tapestry of heroism or of degradation, of virtues or of sins. “The epic legends always relate extraordinary adventures, but never fail to mix them with homely details about the hero. May you always attach great importance to the little things. This is the way!” (J. Escrivá, The Way, 826).
- The parable of the unjust steward is a symbol of man’s life.
- Everything we have is a gift from God, and we are his stewards or managers, who sooner or later will have to render an account to him.
- 12 “That which is another’s” refers to temporal things, which are essentially impermanent.
- “That which is your own” refers to goods of the spirit, values which endure, which are things we really do possess because they will go with us into eternal life.
- In other words: how can we be given heaven if we have proved unfaithful, irresponsible, during our life on earth?
- 13-14 In the culture of that time “service” involved such commitment to one’s master that a servant could not take on any other work or serve any other master.
- Our service to God, our sanctification, requires us to direct all our actions towards him. A Christian does not divide up his time, allocating some of it to God and some of it to worldly affairs: everything he does should become a type of service to God and neighbour — by doing things with upright motivation, and being just and charitable.
- The Pharisees jeered at what Jesus was saying, in order to justify their own attachment to material things; sometimes people make fun of total commitment to God and detachment from material things because they themselves are not ready to practise virtue: they cannot even imagine other people really having this generosity: they think they must have ulterior motives. Cf. also the note on Mt 6:24.
- 15 “Abomination”: the original Greek word means worship of idols, and, by derivation, the horror this provoked in a true worshipper of God. So the expression conveys God’s disgust with the attitude of the Pharisees who, by wanting to be exalted, are putting themselves, like idols, in the place of God.
Dear brethren in Christ, Jesus warns us. We cannot serve two masters. Either we worship God, or we worship wealth, whatever they may be: riches, pleasure, power … Let us treasure what makes us rich before God and not before men. Material wealth must not be considered as our ultimate end; rather, they are just means to have a decent life.
- Saint Gregory the Great says: “Riches are deceitful, because they cannot always remain with us; they are deceptive because they cannot satisfy the needs of our heart. True riches are only those that make us rich in virtues “(Homily 15, on the Gospels).
- And Saint Basil: «You will have to leave your wealth here, whether you want it or not; on the contrary, the glory that you have acquired with your good works you will carry to the Lord »(On charity). And in another place: “Virtue is the only one of riches that is immovable and that persists in life and death” (Address to young people).
- Saint Ambrose writes: «Who until now has been justified with riches? Who has become humble with power, merciful with the nobility of his birth, chaste with beauty? The truth is that all these temporary garments are rather dangerous, to make us fall into guilt, than useful to help us on the path of virtue “(Commentary on Psalm 1, 39).
Through Our Lady’s intercession, may God make our hearts be detached from whatever bondage which impedes us in our path towards Him.
A Blessed day ahead,
Fr. Rolly Arjonillo
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