Mammon

“No servant can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.”

It’s pretty easy to read over these words from the Gospel of Luke and not catch the full significance of them.  The word “money” appears twice in this passage.  The first time, it is capitalized.  The second time it is not.  Why is that?

In the original Greek, the word translated as “Money” in the statement “You cannot serve both God and Money” is “mammonas” ( μαμωνα ), a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word mammon, which simply means money.  The word is capitalized because in the text it is personified as a deity.  In the King James Version the sentence is rendered “You cannot serve God and mammon.”  In this sentence, “mammon” does not mean “money.”  Rather, it means a false god–Mammon, if you will.

Simply put, Jesus is saying that one cannot serve both God, and the false god Money.  If a person is devoted to Money, he will necessarily despise God.  And correspondingly, if a person loves God, he will hate the false god Money.

Interestingly, in the next sentence, the word “money” loses it capitalization.  The English NIV text says that the pharisees “loved money.”  In the original Greek, the text says the pharisees were “philarguros” (φιλαργυροι), which means “covetous” or “avaricious.”  The sentence could be literally translated, “The pharisees, being money-lovers…”

Jesus, and the author of the gospel, are plainly declaring “money-loving” to be a form of idolatry, incompatible with service to God.  In fact, it is equivalent to worshipping a demon–Mammon.

In calling out the pharisees for their misdirected devotion, Jesus says that “What is highly valued among men (meaning in this case “money”) is detestable in God’s sight.”

The Greek word translated in the NIV as “detestable” is often translated into English, as it is in the King James Version, as “an abomination.”  Thus the sentence might be translated, “That which is highly valued by men, is an abomination to God.”

Unfortunately, we hear the word “abomination” thrown around a lot in angry rhetoric from certain Christians.  But I don’t think I’ve ever heard one of these angry souls declaring the love of money to be an “abomination.”  Some of them, I’m sorry to say, are myopically focused on certain “abominations” they perceive in the lives of others, and all the while gleefully accumulating, hoarding and admiring money, and in so doing perhaps unwittingly giving service to a false god.

Be that as it may, as I ponder these passages, I’m struck by the fact that devotion to money is not just a character flaw.  It is instead a fundamental rejection of God.  It is a real abomination.

I wonder who is worshipped more in our materialistic culture, God or Mammon?

Love Wins

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