The Sin is Mammonolatry (by John Frye)

FromShepherd'sNook“The irony of wealthy followers of Jesus cannot be ignored” writes Scot McKnight in the SGBC: Sermon on the Mount (204).  This sentence bifurcates the section Listen to the Story [Matthew 6:19-24] and this section contains some of the most profound, heart-felt, transformative writing in the commentary. The rhythms of a pastor’s heart beat in this section as well as in concluding Live the Story section. Scot summarizes, “Jesus’ message can be reduced to these ideas: Live simply. Possessions are mysteriously idolatrous. Trust God” (205).

Scot agrees with John Calvin that this section offers “a series of short utterances, not continuing address” (205); key evidence is that these utterances show up at different locations in Luke.  Jesus teaches about “treasures” (vv. 19-21), “the single eye” (vv. 22-23), and “serving two masters” (v. 24).

When it comes to storing up treasures on earth, Jesus is zeroing in on “the spirit of acquisitiveness or the desire to acquire” (206). The disciples’ focus is to be on heaven (that which is eternal) and not on the earth (that which is temporal). Jesus followers are to “value [things] that are moral and eternal.”  Tying this section to 1 Corinthians 13, disciples are to value what lasts, and what lasts is love. Kingdom eternal values are love, justice, peace and wisdom (207). Treasures are “measured by where and on what we spend our energies,” indicating “where our heart, the center of our passion, is” (207).

Scot’s take on “the single eye” was a real eye-opener for me (pun, indeed, intended). I had never read or heard of the “intromission” and extramission” theories of light. I had no idea that Jesus “assumes the extramission theory of light in this saying that the eye, like a lamp, permits light to exit the body” (207-208). When one analyzes these knotty verses in view of “extramission,” the knots seem to come untied more easily. The eye full of light then becomes parallel to the “good tree” in Matthew 7:15-20.

On “you cannot serve two masters,” we hear echoes of the first commandment (Exodus 20:3). There is only one God and possessions (mammon from ’aman meaning “trust,” “reliance”) must not become an idol to us. In keeping with Jesus, he confronts his disciples with the decision: Who will you love? God or Money (personified as a Master)?

In the Live the Story segment, Scot offers provocative pastoral direction with some help from John Wesley, Craig Keener, a friend who’s writing on the theme of eschatology, Ralph Martin (who coined the term mammonolatry) and Flannery O’Connor. Scot offers this sentence as a summary of Matthew 6:19-24: Jesus summons us to simplify our lifestyle to focus on the kingdom (210, emphasis his).

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