I always found it funny and even cute when I saw the old Hollywood trick of putting an angel on one shoulder of the hero and a devil on the other shoulder. Then the hero had to choose between the two! But, really, it isn’t as funny as it is revealing. It really does illustrate the internal struggle we all have when deciding which path to take in our priorities, behaviors, and decisions.
That is when we even recognize the struggle at all. Too many times, regardless of the angel and devil on our shoulders, we simply live on automatic pilot not even noticing we had a choice to make.
But, as that famous Bob Dylan song from his album “Slow Train Coming” declared “You Gotta Serve Somebody.”
Look at our lesson today on this last day of the year and let’s see what Jesus has to say to us in Luke 16:10-15:
The Lord said, “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant 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. You cannot serve God and mammon.” The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they scoffed at him. But he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
Our Lord makes it plain that a divided heart, divided attention, divided worship is, ultimately impossible. And it’s impossible because you really never give “equal” devotion to both “masters. There’s always the one you favor over the other. And that can be clearly seen in your choices and behaviors. You really do have to serve somebody and you already are. The question is which “master” do you favor most of the time?
The word “mammon” here is fascinating. It literally means “money” or “wealth” and it is found in similar forms in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and even Syrian. Interestingly enough, it has also served as the name of a Syrian god of wealth. There’s a big hint here. The greatest challenge in any of our lives, and, historically, in all human societies is the temptation to idolatry: the worship of lesser gods rather than the True God revealed in Jesus Christ.
And this is exactly what the Lord is warning us about today. You will either comment to struggling against the temptation to worship lesser gods in your life OR you will become a slave to your passions and gripped by the false life of living too small for your created dignity! You were made to be the companion of only ONE Master, the Lord Creator of Heaven and Earth. And you were uniquely gifted, blessed, enabled, by being created in this God’s Image so that any devotion to lesser gods always corrupts your truest self. This corruption is seen in the selfish lives devoted only to selfish motives and slavery to personal comfort and ego.
You’ve known people like this. You’ve seen the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. In this movie, there is a scene where the miserly, old man, Mr. Potter, is confronted by George Bailey about his greed. Look what George tells this greedy man: “Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle.” What a perfect picture of someone who worships money and power, and, in the end, sells his soul for too little.
Today, as we step into a New Year, who do you serve? The truest answer to that question is no secret. The answer is seen in your choices, priorities, and actions. Who do you serve? In the New Year, let’s determine to serve the Master Who loves us instead of the master who only wants a slave. This Year, let’s be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, You have blessed us with the year that came before, and You bless us with a New Year just ahead. This gift of time that You give us is meant to help us wake up to our real selves created to be with You forever. I confess Lord I’ve wasted enough time focused on lesser gods and serving my own comfort rather than the life-giving struggle of devotion only to You. Forgive me, Lord, and help me as I step into this New Year to grow in my love for You alone so that I can then love others as they are meant to be loved. I never want to serve the wrong master ever again. Amen