“You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.”
“Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: Put second things first and we lose both first and second things.”
These words of C.S. Lewis, the well-known Christian writer, capture the essence of today’s Gospel message. They remind us that putting God first is the way to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ. In fact, putting God first is the only path to true Christian discipleship.
“You cannot serve both God and mammon,” says Jesus at the conclusion of this Sunday’s Gospel reading. After telling his disciples the parable of the dishonest steward and even praising the dishonest, yet prudent, steward, Jesus calls his disciples to single-mindedness for God.
But what exactly is “mammon”? We might stumble on the word “mammon” as it seems old-fashioned and archaic. But is it simply an out-of-date word or one that is especially deserving of our attention today?
Jesus warns his disciples, and us, that a master-servant relationship demands a certain single-mindedness. “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.”
I don’t know about you, but these are pretty strong words. Jesus speaks forcefully as he calls for our undivided attention to the things of God.
As one might guess, the word “mammon” refers to money, material wealth and earthly possessions. It is all the man-made things of the world that compete for our attention, our desire and our dedication.
But Jesus is not denigrating the goods of the earth. Wealth and earthly possessions are neutral in themselves. They can serve good or bad ends. So what does Jesus wish to purify in his disciples so that we grow in friendship with God and love of neighbor?
Given Jesus’ warning, we could say that “mammon” refers to much more than just objects we desire, own and possess. Jesus points to the deep recesses of the human heart where we choose God or that which is not of God.
The innermost depths of our conscience and the act of worship lodged deep within us. It is the place of decision to put God first as the priority of my life’s desires, thoughts and actions. It is in that interior place, known only to God, that we decide who we will serve — God or that which is not of God.
Another way of understanding the word “mammon” is to take stock of what you put your trust in.
On the surface, we can identify the people and things we trust in who are part of our daily relationships and responsibilities. God is love and to put God first is to put love first as we pray “speak to me, Lord.”