Have you ever really taken the time to look at this word that is found in today’s Gospel (Luke 16:1-13) to figure out what it means? Honestly, I once thought that mammon was something like manna which was the food that appeared from heaven for the Israelites as the fled from Egypt. But as I looked at the word mammon in the context of Luke’s Gospel, “food” didn’t seem to make much sense.
Mammon in the New Testament of the Bible is commonly thought to mean money or material wealth and is associated with the greedy pursuit of gain. Jesus used the term mammon, "You cannot serve both God and mammon," as a reference to Caesar, because it was Caesar who claimed on his tax coin he was a god. According to Jesus, Caesar was mammon, "god of money." In the Middle Ages it was often personified as a god and sometimes included in the seven princes of Hell. Mammon was also known as “the god of wealth.”
Mammon is a common Aramaic word (mamon) for riches, used in Matthew 6:24 and in Luke 16:9,11,13. In these passages mammon merely means wealth, and is called "unrighteous," because the abuse of riches is more frequent than their right and noble use. In Luke 16:13, there is doubtless personification, but there is no proof that there was a Syrian god called Mammon in New Testament times. The use of the term mammon in Matthew is apparent where it is written, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received consolation.” In Luke, however, since the statement, "Make to yourselves friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness," follows as a comment on the parable of the unjust steward, there is danger of the inference that Jesus approved the dishonest conduct of the steward and advised His disciples to imitate his example. On the contrary, the statement is added more as a clarification against this inference than as an application. `Do not infer,' He says, that honesty in the use of money is a matter of indifference. He that is unfaithful in little is unfaithful in much. So if you are not wise in the use of earthly treasure how can you hope to be entrusted with heavenly treasure?' The approval in this parable is about how the steward used foresight, not in the method he used to collect his master’s debt. The steward tried to serve two masters, his lord and his lord's creditors but he was ultimately unsuccessful. Jesus teaches that wealth does not really belong to men, but as stewards they may use wealth prudently unto their eternal advantage. Instead of serving God and mammon alike, we may serve God by the use of wealth in a way that creates treasures for ourselves in heaven. Again, the parable is not to be interpreted as teaching that the wrong of dishonest gain may be atoned for by charity. Jesus is not dealing with the question of reimbursement. The object is to point out how one may best use wealth, tainted or otherwise, with a view to the future. That’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about mammon. But I think it is vitally important to understand some of the terms in the Bible that are uncommon in our everyday language. That way, we have a much better understanding of what Jesus was trying to teach all of us as he shared the various parables with His followers.
October 17, 2020
A July Faith Formation Series – Part IV – APOSTOLIC