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Sunday, September 19, 2010


By Susan Fox

“No servant 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 both God and mammon”
(Luke 16:13)

Lake Quinault Lodge in Washington State used to have the best Tempura Salmon I’ve ever tasted.

I often sat at their picture window overlooking the tranquil Lake Quinault, and enjoyed conversation with my husband and mother while eating this incredible dish.

But one year – when the lodge was acquired by a large corporation – the salmon changed. It clearly did not taste as good as it used to. When I asked why, I was told that they used to buy their salmon from the local Quinault Indians. They thought the Quinault Tribe was charging too much money and they could get inferior salmon somewhere else, so they completely sabotaged the quality of the food in order to cut costs – not to mention selfishly ignoring the local businessmen, the Indians.

Little did I realize that I was experiencing the fruits of “serving” mammon.

This is the crux of today’s Gospel: The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. (Luke 16:10)

The large corporation that took over Lake Quinault Lodge was serving profit at the expense of their customers, a form of idolatry and a lack of charity. Also it was short-sighted as once you ignore the customer, the profit very often disappears.

I put “serving” into italics because I used to think the Scripture referred to choosing mammon (idolatry) and not God. Hence, when an individual “desired” something that was not God --- brownies, clothes, ice cream, shopping, a beautiful person of the opposite sex, they were choosing mammon. They were idolaters.

And so any list of innocent desires became a form of idolatry. This is what is known as “scruples” – seeing evil where there is none.

I had forgotten the full context of today’s Gospel reading. The rich man had a steward – a servant – who was squandering his property. He was stealing from him. So he fired the steward and demanded an accounting from him. The steward very craftily called in the master’s debtors and cut their debts in half so that he might be welcome in their homes after he was fired.

The master thought this was acting prudently in a worldly sense.

But he gives us this discernment principle: “No servant 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 both God and mammon”
(Luke 16:13)

Wait. This was a revelation to me. We are not talking about choosing innocent pleasures in moderation. We are talking about working for and pleasing two separate and very demanding masters. That would be like having two husbands!

Is my life lived to serve the glory of God and the salvation of souls? Or is my life lived to serve profit, pleasure and idolatry? This is the choice we are given. And in the context of serving God there can be many innocent pleasures enjoyed.

But worrying about our "desires" when we are "serving" God, can lead to discouragement and exaggerated anxiety -- the two chief obstacles to holiness according to Jesus' words to St. Faustina (Diary of St. Faustina).

Think about St. Francis of Assisi – the son of a wealthy cloth merchant who lived in the Middle Ages. Francis dreamed of becoming a noble knight who would accomplish fantastic deeds and bring honor to his family. He entered the war between the Italian cities of Assisi and Perugia with high hopes for glory, but the reality of war and imprisonment made him long for a better purpose in life.

Going back for a second assignment in warfare, he was given a new suit of armor, sword and shield by his father, but meeting a knight with very poor armor, he impulsively gave him his new suit, believing he had more right to it as he had earned it in battle.

Then that night Francis had a vivid dream. He was in a hall full of armor with colored banners hanging from the walls. He heard a voice ask him, "Francis, who is it better to serve, the Master or the Servant?" He answered, "The Master". The voice then said, "Go back to Assisi and all this will be yours." It was such a powerful dream that Francis acted on it and went back home.

In time, the same voice asked him to “Rebuild my Church.” And so Francis found that he was serving the Master (God) and not the servant (earthly authority). He had made a finer choice of masters. He really couldn’t serve both. And thus he gave up wealth and privilege to become the beloved figure of poverty and love for Christ that we all admire today. That whole hall of armor and colored banners became his. It is the glorious company of men and women who have followed him into poverty and service of Christ in the succeeding years – the Franciscans.

And that is the real meaning of today’s gospel. If a life is at the service of profit and selfish pleasure, then indeed it is serving the cold dish of mammon. But a life lived for God and others is not an idolatrous life.

So enjoy the brownies in moderation and just be faithful in little things.

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