It’s a blessing that I can say these words: I have never been destitute. It’s true when my first husband and I were newly married, we were pretty darn broke. Food stamps broke. We lived in married student housing, and both of us worked while we went to school. When we graduated, we moved to Denver and I got a job as a newspaper reporter earning a whopping $600 a month. This isn’t some number that translated into today’s dollars would equal $5,000 a month. It was a pittance then as well as now. My husband worked too, but he made less money than I. Like I said, broke.
But we always knew we had a parachute. If things got too bad, we had options. Family who would help us out. No kids, so we could get second jobs. College degrees that would allow us to eventually make more money.
It’s true that for most of my adult life, however, I haven’t been poor. I’ve never been a millionaire, but I have never really had to count pennies. There have been times when my income has been healthier than other times, but always comfortable.
I just got done reading a book with a plot that centered around people who are wealthy. Donald Trump wealthy. Owned a private jet and houses all over the world wealthy. The point of the book I think was that you don’t have to be billionaires to be happy. Though I don’t think this particular book did a very good job of illustrating this fact since the supporting characters, while not billionaires, were quite wealthy themselves. Still, the point is well taken. Money doesn’t buy happiness.
And yet many of us think about money all of the time, deeply envious of our friends and neighbors who have more than we. I get up every morning and instead of being thankful for the mortgage-free roof over my head, I instead look down and think about how hideous my carpet is. I’m not alone; we all do it from time to time I’m afraid.
In the Gospel of St. Luke this past weekend, Jesus tells his apostles, “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.”
The use of the word mammon is interesting. I admit that I had to look it up. I’ve probably heard this gospel a hundred times over my life, but I never thought about what the word means. I guess I just thought this was another way of saying that it’s easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into heaven. But mammon isn’t just wealth, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It is wealth that has an evil influence. Wealth that leads us astray, I guess.
Back to the book I just finished. In that book, the man who had nearly limitless money thought that he always needed the next thing to be truly happy. The next mistress. The next shady deal that would bring in more money. The next house on the Riviera. But it never worked because at the end of the day, mammon didn’t make him happy; instead, it was the people he loved who made him happy and not the things he bought.
And our homilist took this away from the gospel: if only we would work as hard at prayer or helping others as we do at making money, we could be truly happy.
All this isn’t to say, however, that I’m not going to replace my ugly carpet!