Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Who's the master?

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24-34)

Although Jesus gives us an example of what he means when he names ‘mammon’ as an alternative to God (see Luke 16:13 where Jesus sasy 'money' instead of mammon), I think the whole question is more open-ended. Money or wealth can seem the obvious choice here because it has great power to influence and corrupt.
For example as we read the Gospels we see the power that money and wealth holds over people’s lives in the story of the Rich Young Man or Zaccheus the tax-collector. And we don’t have far to look in some of the stories that hit our news about the idolatry of wealth and money in tales of rogue-traders, or corrupt bankers and media moguls, and tax-dodgers, metal thieves and fraudsters. Money and the lure of wealth is a very powerful influence in the lives of many, particularly in the West, but it’s not the only one—the most obvious maybe—but not the only one. Because immediately after Jesus’ reference to wealth he moves on to talk about how we can become anxious about several different things:

First, about life itself. We can we make our own lives, our own selves, an idol. That's why Jesus calls us to  deny ourselves if we want to follow him (Mark 8:34ff), and Paul announces in his letter to the Galatians
that since his meeting with Jesus “it is no longer ‘I’ who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20). In other words he has replaced the one master—himself, the ‘I’ - with another, Christ, who is the master now. I is that master he will now obey rather than the other.

He also goes on to talk about “what you shall eat”,and we know that food can also become an idol, something which dominates us and enslaves us so that it is difficult sometimes to say ‘no’ to it's temptations and lure. That is why fasting is such an important spiritual discipline because it puts food in it’s place as servant not master.

What about your body? I was watching the TV the other day and an image of a certain former smodel who has gone down the body-building route, and was showing off her new muscular body, talking about her daily regime of diet and exercises needed to create her new shape and appearance. How many are ‘slaves’ to their bodies like this?  Is that why Paul talks about "pommeling his body and subduing it" (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)?

And also clothes—how many women (and men) are slaves to clothes. Just listen to any teenager who has to choose between two identical set of trainers and they will always go for the latest ‘name’ even though
it costs three times as much. And how many of us have wardrobes of clothes which we cannot bear to part with just in case we lose those years of weight and revert back to our previous size.

I think it is worth noting that we can make idols of our abilty to deny ourselves of any of thsoe things and develop and unpleasant form of unrighteousness which looks down its nose on those of us who are less spiritual.

There are many such alternative ‘masters’ that we can easily become enslaved to. Jesus warns that you cannot serve both them and God—we have to choose. Why? Because (The Message):
“Loving one god, you'll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other.”

You shall have no other gods ‘before me’ says God  (Exodus 20:3) i.e. who should take precedence over God. How do we avoid that? It's about priorities says Jesus. “seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and his
righteousness” (Matthew 6:33)
and everything else will find it’s proper place in your life.

(Note: in one of the corresponding passage in Luke 12:22-34 Luke places Jesus' teaching about treasures in heaven at the end of his teaching on anxiety. He adds "sell your possessions and give to the poor" which can be understood in several ways. One is to get rid of everything - which in some circumstances may be what God is calling us to. That's how St. Antony of egypt understood what God was saying. The other however I think applies to all of us who accumulate things and allow them to dominate - literally to have the dominus i.e. Lordship - over us. We can combat this by giving away things to the poor and needy via the many charity shops that are springing up everywhere. Why not give away your dvd's, excess clothes etc and disconnect from the particular idol who rules your life.)

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