Serving Two Masters
14th Sunday after Pentecost
You can’t have your cake and eat it. It’s impossible. Either your cake is going to sit on the table forever or you’re going to get tired of looking at it and cut off a slice or two till it’s all gone. And once you’ve finished eating it you don’t have your cake anymore. Simple enough. And yet, how hard do we try to do exactly that, have our cake and eat it. Or to put it a different way, we try to serve two masters. This is equally as impossible as having your cake and eating it. We can’t get away with serving God and serving mammon at the same time. Mammon? What’s mammon? Simply put, mammon is the things of this world, all the things we want as opposed to what God wants. We can’t have our cake by doing God’s will and eat our cake by following our own will too, because sooner or later our will and God’s will clash. They will find themselves in conflict. It’s inevitable, because God’s will has as its goal the glory of God himself and the salvation of souls, while our own will seeks nothing than our own miserable little pleasures and vanities. God’s will is that we save our souls, while our will, unfortunately leads us to do whatever we want, even though it means the loss of our salvation.
It is of immeasurable help if only we can come to this simple recognition that we are faced with this choice between these two masters, God and self. We have such high aspirations to follow God’s commandments and be good little Christians, but then as soon as we want something else, we give up on our high and holy ambitions and yield to our whims. We want God, but we want our own self-satisfaction even more. And if we do this too often, we end up doing it too easily. We no longer fight temptation but try to justify our bad actions. We begin to place all our love in the things that provide merely natural and temporary happiness or pleasure, and we end up despising the things of God. Sadly, we see it happen so frequently, especially among our young people. As they grow through their teenage years, and their hormones and feelings of independence lead them away from a life of sacrifice and service into one of self-indulgence, so very often they end up expressing openly their decision that there is no time or place for God in their lives.
The sad passing of Queen Elizabeth this week has given us a very timely example of such a life of service and devotion to her God and her people. As a young person she committed herself to the heavy duties of her role as princess and then Queen, and whatever may be your opinions of monarchy, I don’t think there is anyone who would disagree that here was a lady who truly gave her all to the responsibilities she believed God had placed upon her shoulders. And like the good Samaritans we have spoken about in the Gospels of the past two Sundays, here again is a non-Catholic who puts so many of us to shame, we who have the true faith. Let’s go no further at this time than to take the ancient lesson of our Lord that there is much to be learned from the good example of others, no matter what their faith, or whether they wear the rags of lepers or the grand finery of a queen.
In today’s Gospel, our Lord lays out the solution to this dilemma that faces us on a daily basis, to follow God or to follow mammon. Stop giving so much thought, so much energy, he says, to the material things of life. “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body; what ye shall put on.” Rely instead on divine Providence. “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” The fowls of the air, the lilies of the field—they do perfectly well, thank you, without actively seeking out all the nice things they need. “They sow not, neither do they reap,” yet God provides for them without their seeking. We should follow this example of the fowls of the air and lilies of the field, relying simply and humbly on God to give us the things we need, and certainly, never abandoning God to seek after these things without him. To all men, God bestows good things, the things they need. He does so, seemingly without discrimination between those of the true Faith and those who live in the ignorance of their false beliefs. To the lepers he gave healing. To rulers of nations he has delegated his authority to govern. One leper gave thanks unto God and that leper was a Samaritan. Queen Elizabeth showed a greater and more sincere faith in God than many so-called Catholic popes, priests, presidents and politicians who have abused the authority God gave them to defy the laws of God. I would be personally grateful for your prayers that, like the Samaritan leper, The Queen’s faith might have made her whole. Meanwhile, we must give our highest allegiance and worship to one master only and that master is our Lord Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords, the God by whom kings and queens do reign.
In keeping with our Lord’s teaching, St. Paul lists in today’s Epistle all manner of evil behavior that constantly tempts us away from our true master: adultery, uncleanness, fornication, wrath, drunkenness and so on. He compares them with the things of God, what he calls the fruit of the Spirit: joy, peace, gentleness… it’s a different kind of list altogether. Spend some time and read through both these lists. Ask yourself, which among them pertains to me? Which among these vices and virtues, which of these types of behavior best describes the master I serve? To which of these masters am I subject? If, or rather when, we recognize in the first list some degree of fault on our part, let’s take this occasion to do better. Examine your conscience, repent, go to confession, and resolve to change. Let our faith make us whole.