Notes and Queries 3

Dethroning Mammon (by Justin Welby)  Chapter 3  Bible Focus: John 12

What we have we hold challenges us all to let go, or at least to loosen our grip on what we think we have. The chapter encourages us to consider into what or whom  we pour our time, energy and money. To do this we need to see and value rightly, to begin to understand the meaning of God’s economy and to respond to God’s bondless love.

Notes

  • After three weeks of thinking about the power wielded by Mammon I am continually aware how dominant it is. The clinching arguments in many of the debates of our time are perceived to rest on money. Examples that come to mind are the relationship of the USA and Europe, or Scotland and the United Kingdom, where economic gain and loss are often seen as paramount. The danger here is that we all become guilty of ‘tunnel vision’ and fail to appreciate and give due weight to the fact that our fellow human beings may have other, less tangible, priorities.
  • In Chapter 2 of Dethroning Mammon Archbishop Justin points to the fact that costs far into the future are ‘discounted’ both corporately and individually. Something that our great-grandchildren will have to pay in a hundred years from now has little impact on our present financial situation. What about ‘discounted’ travel? A flight costing 36 zł from Warsaw to Gdańsk may clinch a decision about how to travel, but what are the real costs of the large carbon ‘footprint’? My son once bought a flight from Birmingham to Gdańsk for £1, an example of gross undervaluation of the true cost to others. I’m also more conscious now of the intangible costs, the health and youth of factory workers producing ‘cheap’ clothing, which may similarly be grossly undervalued by the shopper as well the manufacturing business. And chocolate…?
  • The chapters in Archbishop Justin’s book often seem to apply the lectionary readings for that Sunday! Nicodemus had a lot, not necessarily in financial terms, but in social standing and achievement. It was seemingly not easy for him to understand that he could not bank credit with God, but needed to accept in simple trust the free gift of new life that the Creator was offering him. By contrast the circumstances of the woman of Samaria in John 4 showed that she had little on which to count. It was she who was enthusiastically responsive to the Lord’s promise of ever-abundant ‘living water.’

Queries

  • Speaking personally, I hope I don’t hang on too much to the trappings of Mammon, but I know that I am probably deceiving myself. I was once in a serious fire. While watching (from outside!) the flames leaping from a window on the second floor of the building I lived in, I faced the possibility that all my possessions might be lost. However, I remember the experience as one of thanksgiving for my life rather than a sense of loss. When I prepared to come to live in Poland permanently in the 1980s, I actually gave away most (but not all) of my possessions, not out of generosity, but because I was not able to bring them into my new country. Both these situations were matters not of necessity. I experienced the joy of letting go, but the experiences themselves were gifts and not my own choice. Bishop Justin, while encouraging us to let go, also warns against the ‘grand gesture,’ the generous gift which is actually the exercise of control and can become a source of pride. I fear that the motivation for ‘generous’ giving away can be complex and our own motives difficult to be sure of. How can we be honest with ourselves about this? We may say that it is all God’s and not really ours at all, but how do we prevent our ‘stewardship’ becoming an end in itself (as in the case of Judas in John 12)?
  • Archbishop Justin points to worship as the key. Lots of questions bubble up. How do you shape your life in order that worship of Jesus comes first? (Justin Welby)

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