“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”-Matthew 6:24
Aline is 18 years old. She has been in the streets since she was ten. Before this, she and her sister were taken away from her family and placed in a State-sponsored orphanage. She always said good things about the place but at the same time, she knew that it would never be her home. The orphanages can only accommodate children and teens until they are eighteen. Nothing in the system provides shelter for them after this age. Some are sent back home and some end up in the streets. Aline has spent most of her teenage life looking for a permanent home. As strange as it sounds, Aline ran away to the streets in search for a home. She tried staying with her mother for a while but she did not feel that she had a permanent place there. She never told us her reasons. She just said that it wasn’t her place. Aline is looking for something and she doesn’t have an idea what it is. She never had anyone to guide or help her to navigate through life. In many ways, she is not much different from any teenager who has just turned eighteen. The only difference is that she is living in the streets but now she is tired of it. She wants a place to call home.
It is possible for someone like Aline to rent a place in the center. It would not be ideal in any sense of the word. It is usually a small room with shared bathroom in an house and usually they will ask for an exorbitant rent for what they offer but it will still be affordable for her. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a permanent job. She has been doing errands for people and managed to get by with the little they give her. In the beginning of this year, she made up her mind to free herself from any substance abuse. We are proud to say that she has managed this. I have known Aline for almost two years. She has become quite special to us. On her birthday, Mary baked a cake for her and she came to our apartment to celebrate the occasion. We didn’t not realize that this simple gesture initiated a new phase in our relationship. She began to open up to us. Recently, she invited us to watch a movie with her and then quickly stressed that we each should pay for our own way. This was her way of saying that she wanted to spend time with us and not take advantage of our finances. Now, Aline needs some money to rent a room. She has never asked for money from us. She has been sleeping in the streets for the past few days. She left her bag of clothes in our apartment. They were her only possessions and she was afraid that they might stolen while she is asleep at night. She sleeps with the other boys we know in the tunnel. They look up to her as an older sister. This is something temporary. She is looking for a small room to rent. As I already I mentioned before she had limited income. We have the money to help her. However, there is a problem because money is always problematic.
We feel comfortable buying a meal for someone. We would give money to buy clothes for someone. We give to charitable organizations without any hesitation. However, we find it difficult to hand money directly to someone who needs it. We feel uncomfortable and annoyed when someone asks for money. We prefer to look the other way or avoid any eye contact when we see someone begging at the traffic light. In our mind, we have tons of reasons for not giving money to someone directly. Most of them are valid reasons. We don’t want them to use the money unwisely. However, we never question ourselves if we use our money wisely. If we make an inventory of the things we spent our money, can we say honestly say that we spent our money wisely? Well, most of us, including myself, think that our money is our business. No one has the right to tell us how we should spend it. It is our money and we earned it. In reality, we need to question the truth of this mindset. Maybe if we are atheists, then we can believe this way. However, if we are people who take our faith seriously, then we need to ask ourselves who is the owner of our money? It is a question we need to ask on our knees. It is not a political or idealogical question. It is a spiritual one that only God can answer in our hearts. However, we need to be willing to listen to Him. The danger is that we might not like the answer He will give us.
In Jesus’ time, the Jewish people were exposed to all kinds of idolatry. However, Jesus never once said anything about these foreign gods. He only addressed one deity that has an universal appeal to all peoples. He called this deity, mammon. There is no indication that among the Jewish tradition that money had been personified in such a way. What He said radicalized his society. In the Old Testament, money was considered a visible sign of God’s blessings. Abraham, Job and Solomon were considered blessed and material wealth was one of the signs. In the gospel, Jesus, as usual, scandalizes everyone by revealing that money is a destructive god trying to compete with God. It has the potential to dominate anyone who tries to have the best of both worlds. It is impossible to serve both God and Mammon.
Idolatry is about power. It is usurping power from God. Money has the capability of giving us power. Those who have much wealth have less reasons to depend on God. It is not uncommon for people in an affluent society to think that everything can be resolved with money. It is not just the rich that think this way. Both rich and poor can be seduced by this false god. Warnings about the dangers of mammon are not limited to a certain class of people but to everyone who thinks that money is the answer to their problems. However, we live in this world and we need to use money to function in this world. We need to be careful how we use it. We need to have the right relationship with money.
“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”-Job 1:21
The was the attitude of Job in the Bible. It sums up the attitude of the righteous rich in the Old Testament. They were fully aware that their wealth did not belong to them. When it was taken from them, they did not put up a fuss and claim that it was their hard work and good business sense that helped them acquire their wealth. As Christians, we need to recognize that everything including opportunities to make and earn money comes to us through the grace of God. It has nothing to do with our personal merit but only the grace of God. Our money does not belong to us. It has been given to us to participate in God’s work. Even then, we cannot be foolish to think that money is a neutral force. Jesus did not think it was and this is why He identified it as a false god.
We hesitate to give money to the person begging because he might use the money for drugs or alcohol. This is a valid concern. However, it also good to consider the spiritual danger we are putting ourselves in if we refuse to give money away. If we keep the money for our purpose, we are exposing ourselves to greater spiritual danger. There is a spiritual force behind money that makes us depend solely on it. It has the tendency to make us think that we need money to have a secure and peaceful life. The more money we have the more we desire it. Eventually we will find ourselves pushing God in the corner of our lives where we go to Him whenever our money can’t do the job. This is the temptation money brings in our lives. Giving it away is God’s way of providing us a way out of this temptation.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.-1 Cor. 10:13
God might be putting someone in our lives (apart from our families and friends) to share our money so that we can be saved from the power of money. As Christians, we are citizens of another Kingdom that functions radically different than this world. This world uses money to buy favors and assert influences. The Kingdom of God works against this principle. One of the ways we can use money according to the values of the gospel is to give it away.
I am not suggesting that you should give your money to the church or even this ministry or any missionary endeavor. Jesus never mentions any of this as an alternative. Also we should not hand out thousands of dollars to the person on the street. This still remains a unwise thing to do. However, we can follow the words of Jesus; “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”(Luke 16:9) The basis of our giving should be to enhance our relationships. However, this does not mean that relationships should be based on money. It shouldn’t be a paternalistic relationship where the giver assumes a superior position over the recipient. Mammon is very sneaky and can use altruistic means to dominate our soul. The only way to defeat this false god is allowing our hearts to be guided by the true and living God. We need to pray that Holy Spirit will open the door for a relationship with the person begging at the side of the street. It means treating the person like a human being. Our giving can open to the door for us to say a kind word. We can give in way to show that we desire more than monetary relationship with them. However, none of this would be possible without prayer. Our giving can only transmit God’s love if we open ourselves to be used by God in this way.
We want Aline to know us as people who love and care for her. This takes time. We don’t want to use mammon to accelerate this process. It does not have the power to do this. Only God can help us develop this relationship. The hold of mammon is dangerous for us and we don’t want it to contaminate our relationship with her. We will use money in our relationship with her. We will pray for wisdom and guidance. We desire our relationship to be based on love and nothing else. We don’t want to give mammon any room to determine the direction this friendship.