Tuesday, February 14, 2006
February 19 Sermon Stuff
The Scripture text for the sermon this week is Matthew 6:24 (TT - Tim's Translation)
"No one is capable for very long to serve as a slave two different slavemasters. For either he will detest the one and despise the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. Nobody is capable for very long to serve as a slave both God and Abundance of Possessions."
Here are some thoughts regarding this text.
Imagine the peasant or landowner or religious leader or foreign soldier standing within hearing distance of this instruction. They hear the first line and their response might be, "Duh...who would want to have TWO slavemasters, I wouldn't want one, let alone two...who could live under those conditions?"
They hear the second line and nod their heads in agreement with Jesus' observation, "Yep, somebody serving as a slave to two slavemasters is definitely going to be miserable. The preference they have for one slavemaster is soured by the hatred they feel for the other. What a lousy scenario."
And then they hear the third line, Jesus' conclusion and real point: "Oh....yeah...I guess that would be hard to do...hmmmm..."
For us to feel the impact of Jesus' point, we need to grasp the idea of slavery and slavemaster as it was experienced in Palestine and the Roman Empire during the lifetime of Jesus. To be a slave was to be under the complete rule of the slavemaster. All of your time, your energy, your skills, your knowledge, your hopes belonged to him. A slave was not considered a person, but rather a piece of property, a thing to be used. Some slavemasters realized that benevelonce towards some slaves resulted in greater productivity and overall positive atmosphere. Some slavemasters cared little for benevolence towards slaves, and treated them like trash, and discarded them as such when they were useless.
It is impossible to be a slave under two slavemasters. Neither slavemaster would tolerate it. What would compel a slaveowner to share his enslaved property with another slavemaster? Unheard of in Jesus' day. Not only would a slavemaster not let his slave be co-owned by another slavemaster, but the actual slave would break down emotionally, physically and mentally under such a state. That is why Jesus says that a person is not capable, they do not have the physical power to sustain that kind of life, they are not strong enough mentally or emotionally to handle that kind of total ownership by two completely controlling entities.
Another comment, Jesus teaches that one is not capable of being enslaved for very long to both God and Abundance of Possessions. He is not making a value judgement on Abundance of Possessions. His value statement is on the status of our relationship to Abundance of Possesions. There is nothing wrong with having an Abudnance of Possessions.
A word about my translation of "mamon.". The word "mamon," translated "Money" in the NIV, obscures Jesus' point. The word "mamon" carries the meaning of wealth, of assets. The word wealth carries the meaning of "abundance of possessions." This meaning carries a more vivid point for me, and it is more challenging.
"Mamon" is a Hebrew word, which also carries the meaning of "the one to whom I entrust my possessions." This could be like a banker, or a treasury guard. According to this meaning, the word "mamon" carries a positive connotation. However, over time, the meaning shifted, and "mamon" began to carry the meaning of "the possession in which I am entrusted." This carries a negative connotation, one of idolatry. And I think some of this meaning is inherent in Jesus' use of it in this lesson.
The fact that Jesus instructs us on this point implies that people were envisioning themselves as enslaved to God, yet their lifestyle revealed an enslavement to Abundance of Possessions. Another implication would be that the lure and sway of Abundance of Possessions is constantly before us. Another implication is that people are continually orienting their life around the abundant accumulation of possessions, regardless of how they define "abundant" and what they understand as "orienting their life around." Another implication is that we can't sustain the dual enslavement, either one or the other will prevail. We will fail in the endeavor, both because we cannot handle it, we will break down, but also because the slavemasters will not allow it, they pull us in different directions. To be enslaved to God is to be under the rule of Generosity. To be enslaved to Abundance of Possessions is to be under the rule of Greed. As Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5, Greed is the root of all kinds of evil. Generosity is the root of all kinds of good.
Since this is Tuesday, I still have not discerned the application point. Feel free to throw some suggestions my way if you can, or want to.