A few Sundays ago, we read in our Sunday Mass a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “No one 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.” (Matthew 6:24) During the Lenten season we deny ourselves various things…for self-denial and penance, yes, but mostly to remind us of the temporary nature of the material. We eat, then are hungry again…we drink, but then thirst again. Yet Jesus assures us: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) We drink in His Word, refreshed daily with the sustenance of spiritual truth.
The more we cling to the flesh and the things of the flesh, the less we are able to grasp the spiritual realm to which God calls us. This is, I think, what Jesus speaks about most of all in that Gospel passage—not so much that our bodies do not need material sustenance, but rather the spirit—the soul—receives its “food” directly from God through His Word, prayer, works of charity and sacraments. Through our communal Lenten observances we Christians together renew our dedication to follow Christ in the cleansing of desert of self-denial—a barrenness which reduces distraction from the spiritual life by separating—at least a little—the material clutter of our lives as we anticipate His saving sacrifice upon the cross and His resurrection to life at Easter.
The desert, or separation from the constant harangue of material desires, has always been recognized in many faiths as the place of pilgrimage seeking greater spiritual fulfillment.
To guide us toward that fulfillment is why Jesus tells us “No one can serve two masters”—both God and material wealth…for while creation is good, love of created things can easily become idolatry.
The true Christian lives in the world and simply utilizes what God gives for the betterment of both his own spirit and the spiritual edification of those around him…knowing that he is IN the world, but not to be OF the world…recalling the prayer in the book of Proverbs: “…give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’” (Proverbs 30:8-9)…and from Sirach: “The essentials for life are water and bread and clothing and a house to cover one’s nakedness.” (Sirach 29:21-23). This theme is echoed by St. Paul: “There is great gain in godliness with contentment…if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content…” (1Timothy 6:6-8), reinforced by Jesus’ own mission-life, in which He had “nowhere to lay his head.”Not that we need live in absolute poverty, but it is that spiritual sustenance that we seek most of all when we pray: “Give us this day our daily bread…”
So many people in our day search for ways of dealing with the curve balls of life, seeking this-or-that method, or counselor, or the newest advice “guru”, etc., or vainly seeking fulfilment in the material—wealth, new experiences, strength of body, etc.—all which can be generally classed under “mammon”. Yet, it seems the further our society moves away from God and His Word, the more vainly we struggle. As the author of Ecclesiastes wrote: “…the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing…” (Ecclesiastes 1:8)…and the “therapy” of yet another trip, another remodel, a bigger house or fancier car, never satisfies. Rather, the famous prayer of St. Augustine to God returns to us: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
So we remember the psalm:
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
In a largely post-Christian world, to live in faith takes courage. So remember Jesus’ words: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30 RSV)…and Isaiah: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)
Yes, accumulation of, and trust in, the “mammon” of the world is a wide and easy path…and yet devoid of spiritual wealth or fulfilment. So…do we choose our road by its ease of travel, or rather by where it leads? Thus we recall that beautiful poem of Robert Frost—so applicable to our spiritual lives:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.