What is Unjust Mammon?

Pentecost 18 Monday

Luke 16:9

Make friends for yourselves by means of the unjust mammon so that they, when you suffer want, may receive you in the eternal booths.

The Hebrew word mammon translates as “wealth”–not simple wealth, but excess wealth, that is, wealth beyond measure and necessity. But there are two ways of distinguishing between wealth that is mammon and wealth that is not mammon. First, when you measure it according to our Lord God and the truth, there will be many who have mammon; but when you measure it according to the world and man, there are few. For our teachers taught us at the university and also from
the pulpit that everyone should consider what he needs at his station in life and measure his possessions accordingly. If you are a man who has wife and child, you must have more; for where there are many people, there must be many possessions also. And if you want to estimate matters this way, no one has anything left to spare; we all would like to have more. For example, if someone has $2,000, he says: “I must have this money for my home so as to support myself, my wife, and my children.” They also taught that no one has a duty to help except in extreme need. The gospel was completely abrogated by this teaching, so that no one helped the neighbor but built churches instead, although there was no extreme need there, except when the roof caved in or blew off, but there was a complete excess of money and gold was slathered all over the walls. In sum, mammon properly means your excess provisions by which you may help the neighbor without suffering want. Moreover, the Lord here calls it an unjust mammon because it is daily used by the unjust, as we say in the proverb: “Possessions give courage; courage makes arrogant; arrogance creates envy; envy creates arguments.” And the Pagans also said that possessions entice to do evil. Likewise, St. Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:10: Greed is a root of all evil. For from it grow arguments, arrogance, war, and bloodshed. This is, then, why the Lord here calls it the unjust mammon because it is used unjustly and is a great cause of evil among the people. Still, it is God’s creature like wine and grain, and God’s creatures are good–why, then, does he call it evil? Because it entices to much that is evil…Thus, because mammon is used in an evil way, the Lord calls that which people have in excess without helping the neighbor an unjust mammon–for you possess this excess unjustly; it is considered stolen before God. For before God it is our duty to give, lend, and let it be taken from us (Matthew 6:40, 42). This is why the fat cats are the greatest thieves because they have the most to spare yet give the least to the neighbor.

St. Louis ed., 11:1446-1448.

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