Mammon

Last Saturday we discussed about the parable of the shrewd manager in Luk 16.1-15, and what was suspiciously absent from the discussion was the inherent value of wealth itself, which I believe could hold an important key for the passage, especially as the passage was followed, almost immediately, with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (16.19-31), where the rich man was punished because of his indifference towards Lazarus. Possession is not neutral in itself, then, especially when Jesus said that “you will always have the poor among you.” (Mrk 14.7) To do nothing with your money is not a neutral act; it is actually a form of injustice. To use our money wisely means that it must be channeled to those who need it the most.

Coming back to the parable of the shrewd manager, if indeed what I argued earlier is correct, it makes better sense why Mammon is called “unrighteous Mammon” here in 16.1-15, which can be translated as well to “unjust (adikia) Mammon”. It fits with the description for the manager in v. 8: dishonest (adikia), which again can be translated to “unjust manager”. Our global financial system works such that the flow of money actually goes from the poor to the rich. Thus money in the hands of the rich is “unjust Mammon”, which must be put to right by redistributing it to the poor. Similarly, the manager has been behaving in an unjust manner, by charging exorbitant rate such that even after he discounted the loans, his master would still not lose his money. Indeed, to discount the loans is the only right thing to do, to put things right again. The rich has a moral obligation towards the poor. Or, to quote one of the basic principles of Catholic social teaching: God has a “preferential option for the poor” — and so should we.

(Indonesian translation used the same word to describe the manager and Mammon: “tidak jujur”/dishonest, but it obscured the rich content and social dimension of the word dikaio/righteousness/justice. Not to mention that “dishonest Mammon” makes little sense, if any. It is not only a matter of dishonesty. It is a matter of socio-economic justice.)

If you find my discussion to be overtly liberationist, then so be it, since I found that there is another thing which is suspiciously absent from theological discourses in Singapore: liberation theology and praxis. Although after a further reflection it makes perfect sense since the church in Singapore is overwhelmingly middle-class and upper-class in nature. We desperately need Marx here.

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