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Yahweh takes on Mammon

Growing tomatoes under the shadow of the ‘empire.’

Earlier this year, the price of an average house in Hamilton Ontario, where I live, crossed the million dollar threshold. In fact, we are on pace for the average house to be two million in three or four years. Statisticians are saying that only the wealthiest five percent of Canadians can buy a house here. For a 20-something not yet on the housing market, this is very bad news.

From gasoline to groceries to garments, costs everywhere are going up, up and away. While this is nerve-wracking for many of us, it ought not be a surprise. We live under the Rule and Reign of the Empire of Never-Enough, where the underlying worldview is that the economy grows. This is simply how the machine of capitalism functions, my husband who studied business tells me. It ought never stagnate, and heaven-forbid it shrink. When we committed to capitalism, up, up and away is what we signed up for. So what does fiscal responsibility look like in this time?

Mammon: A Matter Unstable

The Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus teaches the crowds what to expect under the Rule and Reign of Christ, has a teaching on finances at the center. “You cannot be a slave both to God and to μαμωνᾷ,” Jesus says (Matt. 6:24). Interestingly, this word μαμωνᾷ, (anglicized as Mammon) is sometimes merely translated as money, but it is actually not the typical Greek word for currency (νόμισμα); rather, it is a transliteration of an Aramaic word. Scholars have mused about whether Matthew chose to keep this word in the Aramaic so as to personify Mammon; in this passage, “God is pitted against Mammon, reminiscent of ancient Israelite showdowns between Yahweh and the false idols of the world,” writes New Testament scholar Jonathan Pennington.

With this in mind, Jesus’ financial advice is simple: if you don’t want to be in service to something, don’t invest in it. “Do not store up treasures for yourself on the earth,” he teaches. Do this so that you don’t fall into the trap of worshiping Mammon instead of Yahweh, but also for an even more practical reason: don’t store up earthly treasures because “moth and rust destroy them, and thieves penetrate by digging and stealing” (Matt. 6:19).

In other words, “money is a matter unstable,” as scholar Dale Allison writes. This is the truth that is being unveiled in our time, as we doomcast about a recession, wonder when the housing bubble will pop, all while the climate-disaster clock ticks, and urbanites pass by encampments of unhoused persons while they walk the dog. Up, up and away, Mammon promised. But this was always an economy built on sand. And as Jesus foretells about households built on sand at the close of his sermon, “the rain descends and the rivers flood in and the winds blow and beat upon the house, and it falls, and its fall is a great one” (Matt. 6:27).

Therefore, Don’t Worry

This all seems terrifying, doesn’t it? Looking these dark realities in the face can bring up emotions of fear, shame and anxiety. There is plenty of evidence that the correct response should be despair.

Which is why it is fascinating that immediately following this teaching of Jesus’ on Mammon, he goes on to say “therefore . . . do not worry” (Matt. 6:25).

Jesus is not gaslighting us; he is not saying “don’t worry, because it’s actually not that bad.” Jesus is not spiritually bypassing us; he is not saying “don’t worry, just ignore the bad and focus on the good.” Jesus is not shaming us; he is not saying, “don’t worry, and if you do worry, you’re a bad person.”

Jesus is inviting us into the Rule and Reign of Christ, where we begin to foster a muscular hope that there is an alternative way to live in resistance to the Empire of Never-Enough. He’s inviting us into a community of people, plants and animals who cultivate relational enoughness through shared resources and compassionate generosity. He is ultimately inviting us into a whole New Earth, where no one needs to worry because everyone has enough.

Tomatoes from Nina’s garden.

Planting Gardens in Exile

So how do we live as members of the New Earth amidst the Empire of Never-Enough? The prophet Jeremiah’s advice to God’s people living under the Babylonian Empire was simple: “plant gardens,” he said (Jer. 29:5).

Last spring, we grew our own tomato seedlings from a packet of seeds and ended up with far more seedlings than we anticipated. We planted all of them in our plot at the local community garden and by early August, we had far more tomatoes than we ever knew what to do with. We made tomato sauce, tomato salsa, tomato soup for the freezer, and even then: there was far more than we could ever eat.

One day out of desperation to keep up with the bountiful harvest, I started putting tomatoes in ziplocks to pass around to friends. Standing in my kitchen I suddenly realized: I was catching a glimpse of the New Earth. No one needs to worry because everyone has enough – more than enough. Abundance.

I don’t have financial advice for fellow renters unsure how to live amidst the housing crisis. I don’t know which stocks to buy or how much to invest right now. The sandy foundation is starting to collapse and I’m not sure what the ethics are. But if you’re looking for direction in these strange, dark days – maybe plant a garden.

Author

  • Nina Schuurman-Drenth

    Nina lives in Hamilton, Ont. and is a pastor at Eucharist Church. She hosts quarterly Wild Church services in partnership with A Rocha Ontario.

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