In a comedy recently produced on Broadway, a young man discovers what it’s like to try to work for two bosses at the same time. Needless to say, chaos, confusion, and many comic moments ensue. The play, “One Man, Two Guvnors,” was praised by critics and is still in production in London, where it originated.
In real life, trying to serve two masters at the same time might not be so funny. In one of his most beloved sayings from the Sermon on the Mount, Christ Jesus assured us that it is unwise to divide our thought, effort, and loyalties between God and material pursuits. He said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
One definition of “mammon” is “material wealth or possessions especially as having a debasing influence.” And in a number of Bible translations, mammon is translated as “Money” (often with a capital M), wealth, gold, or worldly riches.
It would therefore seem that, in today’s parlance, Jesus is admonishing us to get our priorities straight. If we make the pursuit of an extreme, greedy, or damaging sense of wealth our goal or priority, we may find that God gets short shrift. Actually, Jesus expressed the idea as an either/or proposition, which resonates with the First Commandment’s demand to have one God. Jesus said that if we tried to serve both God and mammon, we could end up hating spiritual pursuits. If that were to happen, the result would be worse than the confusion experienced by the character who tried to work for “two guvnors.”
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, saw great significance in Jesus‘ words about the perils of trying to serve two masters. In her writings, she describes Jesus as our “Way-shower” and underlined the importance of following his admonitions. In the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she wrote, “Material beliefs must be expelled to make room for spiritual understanding. We cannot serve both God and mammon at the same time; but is not this what frail mortals are trying to do?” (p. 346).
On a practical level in my own life, I’ve found that I experience more peace and fulfillment when I emphasize spiritual pursuits – when I try to serve God as Jesus instructed. When I start my day acknowledging God as being in control and am willing to strive to do His will, it helps bring into focus the best path for that particular day. This is a good start.
If I continue to endeavor to serve God during the day, better still. I can do that by striving to see each person with whom I come into contact as a perfect and beloved child of God. I can listen for God’s direction. I can reject the pull of materiality, excessive consumerism, and selfish goals in favor of emphasizing love, gentleness, and forgiveness. If I fall short and am tempted by greed, impatience, anger, jealousy, etc., I can wake up and get myself back on a more spiritual track. I have seen evidence that trying to have “one master” and to serve God rather than mammon or material thinking is its own reward and leads to the unfoldment of greater and greater good in one’s life.
The great songwriter Bob Dylan wrote a 1979 Grammy-winning song that emphasized the inevitability of having to choose between the two possible masters described by Jesus. The lyrics of “Gotta Serve Somebody” stress that, whoever you are – a businessman, a socialite, a heavy-weight champion, a dancer, etc. – you’re choosing who your master is, and, by implication, the consequences which ensue.
Clearly, to choose God as your master, rather than mammon or materiality, is the best, safest, and most satisfying choice you can make.