Sunday, September 11, 2016

Luke 16.1-13: Mammon

You cannot serve God and wealth. That's how the gospel reading for Proper 20C/Ordinary 25C (Luke 16:1-13) concludes in the NRSV. The KJV has another word at the end: mammon. We might infer what (or who) that is, but medieval Christians did not need to infer. Mammon was written about, painted and otherwise brought to life to show exactly how opposite and how unsuitable for worship was mammon.

The word itself is probably Aramaic, related to the Hebrew term 'aman (to trust). The figure of Mammon was described with almost gleeful disgust by Edmund Spenser in Book 2 of The Faerie Queene (his cave is near the mouth of the underworld...that's pretty clear). Mammon is a devil living in Hell in John Milton's Paradise Lost.
(Left) Evelyn de Morgan. The Worship of Mammon. 1909. Compton, Guildford, Surrey, England: The DeMorgan Foundation. (Right) George Frederick Watts. Mammon. 1884-1885. London: Tate Gallery. .
The figure of Mammon, above, is one of two figures in the painting. Against a deepening blue sky, a woman grasps the knee of the figure of Mammon, gazing up in adoration. Mammon holds a bag presumably filled with money, in his right hand, but the woman doesn't even spare a glance at the bag. She doesn't appear to be worshiping money as much as worshiping Mammon himself. Or perhaps it is that Mammon holds the bag out of reach of the woman and she never realizes that happiness (satisfaction?) is always out of reach if Mammon is the object of worship.

Watts' Mammon bears at least a passing resemblance to Jabba the Hutt. He sits on his throne with a nude young woman to his right and a young man under his feet. His throne, upholstered in red features two skulls as finials. His crown features gold coins and donkey ears, references to Midas in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Most know Midas from his "touch" that turned everything, including his daughter, into gold. Through Ovid's pen, we hear that Apollo gave Midas the donkey ears as a symbol of his stupidity because he preferred the music of Pan's pipes to Apollo's lyre.

You cannot serve God and Mammon, Jesus said. Neither of these two figures is appealing enough to make the thought of serving Mammon tempting.

For thoughts on Jeremiah 8.18-9.1, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment