A HEART PIERCED WITH MANY PANGS
What Does It Mean to “Serve Mammon”?

October 2012By Christopher Zehnder

Christopher Zehnder is the general editor of the Catholic Schools Textbook Project, which has published his books From Sea to Shining Sea, a history of the U.S. for grades 5-8, and Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World, for grades 8-10. He lives with his wife and seven children in the mountains of central California.

“You cannot serve God and mammon.” These have been among the most repeated of the words of Christ and, perhaps, the most ignored. This might be because they are among the most misunderstood. What does it mean to serve mammon or wealth? Does the simple possession of wealth or the pursuit of money and material goods equate to the service of mammon? In seeking to better our material condition, do we imperil our eternal souls?

An honest misunderstanding of these words of Christ’s, however, is not alone the cause of their neglect. Some who hear them despise them. The Gospel of Luke tells us that the Pharisees, “who were lovers of money,” scoffed at these words of Jesus (Lk. 16:14). Why did they scoff? Because, Jesus said, they sought to justify themselves “before men,” not before God. Nevertheless, “God knows your hearts,” He told them; and He gave them this warning: “What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

As if to emphasize the truth that human exaltation is an abomination to God, Jesus almost immediately launches into one of His most well-known parables, that of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31). Understood in light of the teaching of “Moses and the prophets” (v. 29) and, for us, the New Testament and sacred Tradition, this parable not only illustrates the perils of human pride but provides the key to understanding what it means to serve mammon, and how this service is not consonant with a life lived in God.

Our Lord delivers His parable with a simple but eloquent artistry. By the use of a few well-chosen, parallel but contrasting phrases, He paints for us a vivid picture of the rich man, or Dives, as tradition names him, and the poor beggar, Lazarus. Dives is “clothed in purple and fine linen,” while Lazarus is “full of sores.” The rich man “feasted sumptuously every day,” but the poor man had to content himself with nothing, for he “desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table,” but was not. We can presume that Dives, being rich, had servants to wait on him; Lazarus, however, had only dogs to lick the wounds that covered him like a garment of shame.


You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at newoxfordreview.org AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.



Back to October 2012 Issue

Read our posting policy Add a comment
A person could wake up a multi-millionaire/billionaire on a warm sunny day on earth and before the day or first waking hour is over become a pauper in hell in eternity. Posted by: Richard Mackin,Jr.
November 13, 2012 10:20 AM EST
A person could wake up a multi-millionaire/billionaire on a warm sunny day on earth and before the day or first waking hour is over become a pauper in hell in eternity. Posted by: Richard Mackin,Jr.
GENIUS............
Posted by: jbw
November 13, 2012 01:01 PM EST
Then, when you decide to choose a rolex replica a precise time, precise basic skills that can help you is particularly effective in this regard. Chinese famous brand rolex replica uk price from $ 200 to more than 3,000 yuan. Your financial subsidies may limit your options, but with Italian designer rolex replica Air King watches, almost all of the price range can take you to a fabulous piece, you can be proud to wear. In a similar way, time is crucial rolex replica Day Date watches you are looking for the best value.
Posted by: jamess
February 17, 2013 10:38 PM EST
Add a comment