The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 6:22-33
There was a young man who worked for a nearby company. His boss was an older gentleman, always kind, always gentle, a good boss by any measure. The pay was decent but not great by any means.
One day as this young man was walking down the street he saw a flyer for another job. They promised him the world; a shiny new company car, one of the highest salaries in town, and an office with a great view. He went through the interview process and accepted the job. The only problem was that he had not met the boss. When he began working he realized that the boss was a terrible, awful human being. He was harsh with his words, he was merciless, he was guided only by profit. He ensured that the company always made lots of money, but everyone was quite miserable in the process.
The young man held onto both jobs but just barely. As he focused his efforts to please his new boss, his other work would suffer but still his old boss was kind and patient with him. The young man had everything that he thought he ever wanted. The new car, the new suit, and plenty of money to spare. And then the young man realized something: The more time he spent in his new work environment, the more he started becoming just like his awful new boss and the less he desired to work for his original boss. It was an extreme wake-up call for him. It was a sign that he needed to make a decision. He could stay with this new job and have everything he ever thought that he wanted right away but he would also lose everything that was important to him. He would even lose himself in his pursuit of material wealth.
In today’s gospel reading we see a similar theme as the Lord Jesus Christ reminds us that “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” The Lord further clarifies for us with a simple statement “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Mammon is wealth or money but in this case it is understood as having the potential to greatly influence our moral compass as well. We live in a world that requires us to make money. We need financial resources to do much of what we do. The Lord understands that completely. The issue here is not whether or not we need money. The question is what is the focus of our desires. It is the focus of our desires that will lead us either to love and serve money or will allow us to love and serve God. Put another way, it is the focus of our desires that allows money to serve us or forces us to serve money.
Among many of the holy fathers of the Orthodox Church, there is the concept of the “Nous”. This is also called the heart by some of the fathers. The nous is understood as the eye of the soul. With such an understanding we can read more deeply into the words of Our Lord Jesus when He says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness.” It is certainly true that this can be understood as the physical eye, but in the depth of our theology, we can go further to understand that what really matters is not a matter of the physical eyes but of the heart. What do we desire? What do we seek? What do we contemplate and ponder and think about? According to the Lord, it is whatever we focus on with our heart and mind that begins to master us. It is no surprise that it becomes easy for us to fall prey to money as to a false God. If we think about the time and energy we’ve dedicated to “making a living” it can be really easy for us to lose focus on why we do the work that we do.
In the Orthodox Christian life we subject every part of our life as an offering of thanks to God. We freely offer our will to God. We offer our talents and gifts to God. We offer everything that we have and everything that we are to the true and living God. It is the continual offering of everything to God that ensures that our compass is always pointing in the right direction. As Orthodox Christians, we don’t lose focus of Jesus Christ because we understand that the whole of our life is a gift that we gratefully offer back to God. We live within the world but we do our best to never be part of it’s culture of money. That is not easy. There are always new and shiny things that demand our attention and demand to be purchased. Each and every one of these shiny new things requires us to work harder and dedicate more time to its acquisition. In essence it requires part of our life in exchange for what it offers us.
We decide what is important to us. We decide where to focus our energies. We ultimately choose what we desire in the depths of our heart. We choose what we love. Much of this becomes natural to us depending on where we spend our time and how we use the gifts that have been given to us. Have we genuinely chosen love of God as our ultimate point of reference? Because it is only in service to the true Master that we are released from every form of slavery. It is only in slavery to the One God that we truly find freedom. It is only when we serve the One who purchased us, that we can find our precious and true value as His children. Glory be to God forever, AMEN.