Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 18, 2022
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings make one thing very clear: we cannot serve both God and “mammon”.
The problem is that we have a hard time figuring out what mammon is. Experience tells us that it’s a lot more than just money, because there are people with money who do a good job serving God.
It seems to me that “mammon” is more the illusion that we are only our “possessions” — our money, house, car, looks, degrees, physical abilities — and that we (or anybody else) is nothing without them.
This misperception is so intrinsic to our inability to live the Gospel that it cripples our souls. The love of “mammon” becomes an overwhelming, incurable addiction that feeds on the well-being of our neighbor.
As our first reading tells us, living by this addiction invokes God’s eternal anger. Describing the abuse heaped upon the poor, God warns the abusers:
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:Amos 8:7
Never will I forget a thing they have done!
Our Gospel tells us that we can’t have it both ways. We either live within the generosity and inclusivity of God, or we’re outside it:
No servant can serve two masters.Luke 16:13
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
This is a challenging but fundamental teaching of the Gospel. It is essential that we consider how we live it.
Walter Bruggemann, in his book Money and Possessions says this:
Jesus said it … succinctly. You cannot serve God and mammon. You cannot serve God and do what you please with your money or your sex or your land. And then he says, “Don’t be anxious, because everything you need will be given to you.” But you must decide. Christians have a long history of trying to squeeze Jesus out of public life and reduce him to a private little Savior. But to do this is to ignore what the Bible really says. Jesus talks a great deal about the kingdom of God—and what he means by that is a public life reorganized toward neighborliness. . . .
Let’s have the courage to pray with that thought today. Although challenging, the question is rather simple: how do we use what we have to live a Gospel life, the essence of which Jesus stated like this:
Love God above all things
and your neighbor as yourself.
Poetry: Cullen in the Afterlife – P. K. Page
(This poet is new to me. She is a Canadian poet whose work is noted for its vibrant images. I liked this poem in which she imagines the experience of finding oneself in the afterlife. She notes the difficulty of embracing Love when hampered by “mammon” which she called “Earthshine”.
And how partake of such a gift when he
was handicapped by Earthshine—wore the stars,
badges and medals of privilege and success?
the tricks that mammon plays to make one sleep.
Cullen in the Afterlife – P. K. Page
He found it strange at ﬁrst. A new dimension. One he had never guessed. The fourth? The ﬁfth? How could he tell, who’d only known the third? Something to do with eyesight, depth of ﬁeld. Perspective quite beyond him. Everything ﬂat or nearly ﬂat. The vanishing point they’d tried to teach at school was out of sight and out of mind. A blank. Now, this diaphanous dimension—one with neither up nor down, nor east nor west, nor orienting star to give him north. Even his name had left him. Strayed like a dog. Yet he was bathed in some unearthly light, a delicate no-color that made his ﬂesh transparent, see-through, a Saran-Wrap self. His body without substance and his mind with nothing to think about—although intact— was totally minus purpose. He must think. Think of a Rubens, he said to himself. But where Rubens had been there was a void, a vast emptiness—no opulence. And then Cézanne who broke all matter up— made light of it, in fact. And mad Van Gogh who, blinded by the light, cut off his ear. Gone—that shadowy assembly—vanished, done. Gone without substance. Like himself. A shell. Insensate in a ﬂash. (What was that ﬂash— bereft of all but essence?) Was it death? He wondered about the word, so ﬁlled with breath yet breathless, breathless, breathless. A full stop. “Divino Espirito Santo,” he had said once in Brazil, “Soul of my very soul.” He’d prayed in Portuguese, an easier tongue— for newly agnostic Anglos—than his own, burdened with shibboleths and past beliefs. “Alma de minha alma”—liquid words that made a calm within him. Where within? Was there a word for it? Was it his heart? Engulfed by love. Held in a healing beam of love-light. Had he earned such love? And how partake of such a gift when he was handicapped by Earthshine—wore the stars, badges and medals of privilege and success? Desensitizers, brutalizers—all the tricks that mammon plays to make one sleep.
He must wake up. He must expose and strip
successive layers to ﬁnd his soul again.
Where had the rubble come from? He was like
a junkyard—cluttered, ﬁlled with scrap iron, tin.
As dead as any metal not in use.
So he must start once more. He had begun
how many times? Faint glimmerings and dim
memories of pasts behind the past
recently lived—the animal pasts and vague
vegetable pasts—those climbing vines and fruits;
and mineral pasts (a slower pulse) the shine
of gold and silver and the gray of iron.
The “upward anguish.”
What a rush of wings
above him as he thought the phrase and knew
angels were overhead, and over them
a million suns and moons.
Music: a simple mantra, but powerful if we can live it: Love God, Love Neighbor by Dale Sechrest