Last year I preached to you, “Stop Stealing Paperclips”. If you cannot be trusted with small things, you cannot be trusted.
“No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
Mammon is an Aramaic word meaning property, money, possessions, or that in which one puts trust.
You know as well as I do that we will spend most of our lives struggling with the master “Mammon”. We will each say to ourselves that we are not mastered by money and possessions. Nevertheless, we will all be jealous of someone else’s money, car, clothes or house. Still we will tell ourselves that we are free from slavery to mammon. However, in our hearts we will know that is simply not true. To be honest, it is a struggle to be free from the master “Mammon”. This struggle cannot be overcome without prayer and God’s grace.
One of the most misquoted sayings of St. Paul, goes like this, “Money is the root of all evil.” That is not what St. Paul actually said. What he really said was,
“For the love of money is the root of all evils,
and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith.”
Money itself is neither evil nor good. Enjoyment of nice things is not evil. However, a disordered love of money leads to evil, and is the root of evil, as we discussed when we spoke about the Deadly Sin of Greed.
Love of money can distort us spiritually, to the point that we run after money, we become numb in our relationships. And we can drift in our ethical concern for others in our daily activities. This is the road to corruption.
In the first reading, the prophet Amos reveals God’s contempt for corrupt merchants in the marketplace. These are people who will shrink the weights and measures in their favor. Amos is talking about cheating. God tells us through his prophet, Amos,
“The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Never will I forget a thing they have done!”
Our struggle with deadly sin seems to never end. And God will not forget our transgressions.
Jesus teaches us to have a preferential treatment for the poor, to give alms. We are asked to redirect our love of mammon and wealth to care for those around us who are in need. Here you can sense the struggle. This is when we badly need to fast and pray.
The ministry here in Austin called Mobile Loaves and Fishes consists of volunteers who take meals to the homeless on the streets of Austin, using trucks from their commissaries. The ministry began with some people who had experienced Christ Renews His Parish at a parish in west Austin. Today, some 17,000 volunteers from various parishes and churches cooperate to feed the homeless of Austin every day of the year. This ministry puts them face to face with real poor. There is a debate within the Mobile Loaves and Fishes community over who benefits more: The hungry homeless or the volunteers who may have never known a homeless person if they had not gone out on the streets to meet them.
Several years ago Mobile Loaves and Fishes began providing “Street Retreats” for their volunteers. These consist of perhaps 15 or so adults who actually campout on the streets of Austin with the homeless for 2-3 days at a time. I went out on the first Street Retreat over a decade ago. The requirement to go is to take no cell phones, no credit cards and no money. You can only take what you wish to carry around with you. You sleep and eat on the streets with the homeless. You become homeless. The lessons were huge.
Each of us started with the normal levels of misconceptions about the homeless and street beggars. You know the stories, like the line that beggars on street corners are actually lazy, well-to-do people who arrive at their begging sites in Cadillacs and actually live very well. The first thing you lose on a street retreat is your own error and myths about homelessness. It is humbling. The myths about the homeless simply aren’t true. Each person on the streets has a different story, a sad, often hopeless story. Some have skills and jobs during the day, but don’t have homes or automobiles for one reason or another. There is no single cause. Few of them actually want to be there. All of them need help. One of the homeless who took special care of our women on retreat was a transvestite who had undergone a sex change from man to woman, but could only afford the surgery, but not the hair removal. Laura was a guardian angel to us. He/she was large enough to be a very hairy football linebacker. He/she was living on the streets to be able to finish a Master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Texas. Laura has since died and suffered from lack of medical attention on the street.
Those of us who went out on the Street Retreat with Mobile Loaves and Fishes experienced life-changing, emotional moments. Among us were a school principal, a lawyer, a few business people; all successful in our private lives. Many of us, including me, were so affected that we could not talk unemotionally about these experiences until weeks had passed. All of us had been changed forever, stripped of our myths. Today, the Diocese of Austin requires a Street Retreat during the formation of every candidate to become a permanent deacon.
Those on retreat spend time meeting for weeks before and after the retreat. We met first to prepare ourselves as best we could, and, afterward to help us process the experiences. What happened to us?
In one meeting we were each sharing how difficult it was for us to drive through the parts of town where we had spent time with the homeless. Some kept in contact with friends made on the street for some time afterward, and shared updates on our new friends. We all shared the difficulties of passing a beggar at an intersection here in town.
One of our group shared that his wife challenged him, saying, “Do you give the beggar the biggest bill in your pocket, or the smallest?” He said it has become very expensive for him to cross the city now and that he has to carry many $20 bills. That affected each of us. I must admit that crossing town now is also an expensive experience for me. The myth is gone. The poor I can now see.
The Gospel today calls us to examine our relationship with money and wealth, whether large or small, and our generosity or lack of generosity. Jesus’ Gospel has affected many in Christian history, such as St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Benedict, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Theresa of Calcutta. Jesus says to us,
“I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that
when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones;
and the person who is dishonest in very small matters
is also dishonest in great ones.
If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest
wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?
You cannot serve both God and mammon”