Readings: Isaiah 49:14-15; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34
One of my childhood memories growing up in South Africa, is that of a popular radio show called “The Money or the Box.” Participants from a live audience had to choose between a known sum of money and a box whose contents might be anything from a box of matches to a brand new Mercedes. And as you can imagine, sometimes the person choosing to take the money would find out that the prize in the box was in fact a Mercedes, or choosing the box instead of a substantial money prize, opened the box to find a box of matches.
I speak of this, because for some of us today’s gospel’s choice between God and Mammon sometimes seems all too much like a choice between the Money and the Box! The Mammon–whether actual money or the things of the world–is fully visible and tangible, whereas God and the eternal rewards of eternal life are presently invisible and impossible to verify…except by that mysterious faculty we call faith. And when faith grows dark, weak or obscure, it’s all too easy to doubt that there is anything in the box at all. And so it is like a variation on the parable of the man who discovers a treasure in a field and then promptly goes and sells everything he has to purchase the field and obtain the treasure. However, in this case, we are buying a field that we are told contains a treasure without ever having laid eyes on it.
Monastic life, when undertaken seriously, amounts to selling everything we have and purchasing that field. But if after much digging we fail to locate the treasure, we can find ourselves regretting our apparent gullibility and be tempted to begin selling back portions of that field and reclaiming some of what we forfeited by purchasing this apparently worthless piece of ground.
One thus hopes that God takes all this into account in judging our compromising attempts to take back what we had previously relinquished. Because our apparent preference for Mammon is not simply some crass preference for the passing things of this world; it is not being presented with a piece of coal and a glittering diamond, and then choosing the piece of coal. Instead, it’s a choice between something tangible, desirable and even good, on the one hand, and something that we can’t see, touch or hear with any of our physical senses, on the other. And therefore without faith, the choice between God and Mammon is no choice at all–Mammon will win every time.
That being said, signs of the treasure hidden in the field and the priceless gift within the box are not completely absent–even during periods of darkness and weak faith. One reason for this is that we tend to become like the things we love and pursue. And so the Psalmist speaks of those who fashion idols becoming like the idols they have fashioned. But the same occurs with those who seek that divine treasure hidden in the field; in their very search and persevering digging, they are gradually transformed into the treasure they seek. And so it is that the long line of holy men and women who have sold everything, purchased the field and never given up digging, begin to radiate–even to our sinful eyes–the reality of what they have so diligently pursued. And sometimes it is only as death approaches and the long searching comes to an end that they are given a glimpse assuring them that they have not labored in vain and that the one who made the promise is trustworthy.
Therefore, drawing strength from their example let us recommit ourselves to the search and the laborious digging of our daily monastic life. Let us resist the lure of Mammon and the short-lived joys and pleasures of the passing world. For although the world may deem us fools in search of “fools’ gold,” we can respond with Saint Paul: I know him in whom I have believed and am confident that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day. The very same one who asks: Can a mother forget her infant, or be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you!