Undoing Unrighteous Mammon – Making friends . . .

Loving God with all you have and all you are, and loving those you meet as if they were your very own flesh and blood is the fulfilment of the Law and the prophets, that is it is Union with Jesus Christ.

Everything that gets in the way of that state of reconciliation effected in Christ is Sin. When Jesus talks about Money, he talks of it in terms of Sin, for Money ‘gets in the way’ . . .

Imagine for a moment going for a meal. The person who serves the food is obviously in a very bad mood. Whoever cooked the food clearly isn’t a very good chef, it is badly cooked and close to unpalatable, and whoever is looking after the housekeeping hasn’t done a very good job, for their are gravy stains on the table linen.

Question – how might we respond?  The answer is, as always, probably dependent upon the context.

This might be a meal at the home of a friend. Their life is troubled, hence the bad mood, they have never been taught how to cook, and with the way things are housekeeping is not anywhere near the top of their list. But because the person is your friend, then (one might hope) we will be far more concerned for their well being than the ‘quality’ of the ‘experience’. We may know them well enough to discern that actually this is the best meal we have enjoyed in their company – that they have extended themselves for us despite everything. (Of course, it may be that such a person may not be someone we would want for a friend. . . for food like anything else can be an idol, keeping us from others . . .)

On the other hand, we might have gone to a cafe or restaurant for the meal. What now is our response? We are wired to have a very different response – after all, ‘we paid for this . . .’

It might be that we go to a restaurant where the waitress has just acrimoniously split up with her boyfriend, the chef is doing his best and really is in the wrong job, yet it is all he can get to keep body and soul for himself and his family together, and the company they outsource their linen cleaning to went bust the day before. The manager is in despair . . . Yet none of this is important now.

There is of course no difference between the two except that in one case we are divorced from those who are doing their very best under trying circumstances to feed us. Money has got in the way. Who the people are, their lives and circumstances are of no interest to us. We paid for this! Life has made restaurant critics of us all – well those of us who can afford such luxuries . . . (We might add that the idea of paying to ‘eat out’ is a rather odd one in itself when you think about it, but another time perhaps . . .)

Put another way, money is very effective at keeping others at arms length. Indeed it could be argued, this is precisely why we invented it. It depersonalises our neighbour, and in the process reduces us also to objects, perhaps to ‘uncaring and obnoxious customers’ (My daughters, all having worked in the dining trade know this all too well). Put another way, money distances us from the messy reality of life with other people and their lives.

This, as I have remarked before is plain in the way people live. The more money you have, the more separately you live. In my home country, the poor live cheek by jowl in tenements; moving on up the wealth and ‘social’ scale (although the greater the wealth the less the sociality . . .) one might live in a terrace; or up again to a ‘semi’, or even a detached house; or finally we get what we really aspire to, a large house on its own – behind gates . . . all because we can, because we have the money.

The heart of Jesus is Reconciliation [sic] St Paul says ‘He reconciled us to God in one body by the cross’ Jesus is in his very flesh and blood pulling us together. It is no surprise he is no fan of money. Of course one cannot serve God and money, for God in Jesus is drawing together and money at best keeps us apart and so actively works against God’s good purposes in Christ. The fact that we might begin to try and argue otherwise is only because we are so separated, it has become normal for us, being ‘Friends and neighbours’ little more than a breath, and we have lost the Sight to discern God’s work in Jesus. We do not See.

And so when, many years ago now, my family was visited by the local priest to organise my dad’s funeral, I vividly remember him agonising over the sermon he was to preach that evening (a warning to me not to ‘go on about my own stuff when with others’) He was preaching on the parable of Jesus about ‘unrighteous mammon’ and the story of a man who is about to be thrown out on his ear for for whatever reason (who cares why, money is involved!) he has made a bad job of his masters affairs (haven’t we all?), and is about to be thrown out on the street. Physically he can’t labour and begging is beneath his dignity, so he comes up with a scheme whereby he embezzles his masters business ‘to make friends’ – People who will welcome him to dinner (because friendship and food are what it is all about, no?).

The priest agonised, for Jesus seemed to be ‘commending dishonesty’ – and of course he was, in a very deep sense. For Money so sets the rules of what is ‘Right and Wrong’ – Money determines the meaning of honesty for us – thus  Jesus’ parable is morally shocking, for we have a money ethic. The fact that the man was about to be out on his ear on the streets and destitute mattered less it seemed to this cleric, than a financial accounting.

Jesus parting shot as always opens a new vista. ‘Make friends for yourself therefore with the mammon of unrighteousness’. Yes, use unrighteous money; you have little choice after all in the world you have made for yourselves, but do so to undo money’s story – its power to depersonalise. Use money to undo its power over you – use it to subvert its own impersonal story about your lives – ‘Use unrighteous money to make friends . . .’

Perhaps in the restaurant, we might pay double for our lousy meal – throw a party for the beleaguered staff, they might even welcome us to eat in their homes after we did . . . or perhaps we might just go home and write a fierce critique on Trip Advisor?

Friends – like family – don’t charge for their services. We don’t bill our relatives, our brothers and sisters for lodging and food. The Church, which is in theory supposed to be this community of the Reconciled and reconcilers has largely forgotten this. More and more it has adopted other stories and thus has become radically depersonalised. Clergy want to be thought of as ‘Professionals’ and have job descriptions etc etc etc. We might talk of Church as family, but money subverts the gospel and thus the church. We cannot subvert the gospel without subverting the embodiment of the gospel – Jesus himself. Thus ‘Jesus’ becomes no more than a nice idea, or a ‘spiritual’ guru.

Yet, the Gospel is Jesus Christ in the flesh, in whom God is reconciling the world to himself and thus us to one another – making friends. Making One Body

At present in our Anglican Diocese we are pondering whether we will have another bishop. Money of course, what else, is the reason why. Do we have the imagination and indeed the faith to live deeper into the gospel message, imagining the Church as it is – a family, or will we still be looking to ‘get what we pay for’? Perhaps if we can only see it in these terms we have no gospel??

Oh, and by the way, how does Jesus do all this reconciliation??

He doesn’t spend money, he spends himself.




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