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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 63

Sermon 63 on the New Testament

[CXIII. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, Luke 16:9 , Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, etc.

1. Our duty is to give to others the admonitions we have received ourselves. The recent lesson of the Gospel has admonished us to make friends of the mammon of iniquity, that they too may receive those who do so into everlasting habitations. But who are they that shall have everlasting habitations, but the Saints of God? And who are they who are to be received by them into everlasting habitations, but they who serve their need, and minister cheerfully to their necessities? Accordingly let us remember, that in the last judgment the Lord will say to those who shall stand on His right hand, I was an hungred, and you gave Me meat; and the rest which you know. And upon their enquiring when they had afforded these good offices to Him, He answered, When you did it to one of the least of Mine, you did it unto Me. These least are they who receive into everlasting habitations. This He said to them on the right hand, because they did so: and the contrary He said to them on the left, because they would not. But what have they on the right hand who did so, received, or rather, what are they to receive? Come, says He, ye blessed of My Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungred, and you gave Me meat. When you did it to one of the least of Mine, you did it unto Me. Who then are these least ones of Christ? They are those who have left all they had, and followed Him, and have distributed whatever they had to the poor; that unencumbered and without any worldly fetter they might serve God, and might lift their shoulders free from the burdens of the world, and winged as it were aloft. These are the least. And why the least? Because lowly, because not puffed up, not proud. Yet weigh them in the scales, these least ones, and you will find them a heavy weight.

2. But what means it, that He says they are friends of the mammon of iniquity? What is the mammon of iniquity? First, what is mammon? For it is not a Latin word. It is a Hebrew word, and cognate to the Punic language. For these languages are allied to one another by a kind of nearness of signification. What the Punics call mammon, is called in Latin, lucre. What the Hebrews call mammon, is called in Latin, riches. That we may express the whole then in Latin, our Lord Jesus Christ says this, Make to yourselves friends of the riches of iniquity. Some, by a bad understanding of this, plunder the goods of others, and bestow some of that upon the poor, and so think that they do what is enjoined them. For they say, To plunder the goods of others, is the mammon of iniquity; to spend some of it, especially on the poor saints, this is to make friends with the mammon of iniquity. This understanding of it must be corrected, yea, must be utterly effaced from the tablets of your heart. I would not that you should so understand it. Give alms of your righteous labours: give out of that which you possess rightfully. For you cannot corrupt Christ your Judge, that He should not hear you together with the poor, from whom you take away. For if you were to despoil any one who was weak, yourself being stronger and of greater power, and he were to come with you to the judge, any man you please on this earth, who had any power of judging, and he were to wish to plead his cause with you; if you were to give anything of the spoil and plunder of that poor man to the judge, that he might pronounce judgment in your favour; would that judge please even you? True, he has pronounced judgment in your favour, and yet so great is the force of justice, that he would displease even you. Do not then represent God to yourself as such an one as this. Do not set up such an idol in the temple of your heart. Your God is not such as you ought not to be yourself. If you would not judge so, but would judge justly; even so your God is better than you: He is not inferior to you: He is more just, He is the fountain of justice. Whatsoever good you have done, you have gotten from Him; and whatsoever good you have given vent to, you have drunk in from Him. Do you praise the vessel, because it has something from Him, and blame the fountain? Do not give alms out of usury and increase. I am speaking to the faithful, am speaking to those to whom we distribute the body of Christ. Be in fear and amend yourselves: that I may not have hereafter to say, You do so, and you too do so. Yet I trow, that if I should do so, you ought not to be angry with me, but with yourselves, that you may amend yourselves. For this is the meaning of the expression in the Psalm, Be angry, and sin not. I would have you be angry, but only that you may not sin. Now in order that you may not sin, with whom ought ye to be angry but with yourselves? For what is a penitent man, but a man who is angry with himself? That he may obtain pardon, he exacts punishment from himself; and so with good right says to God, Turn Your eyes from my sins, for I acknowledge my sin. If you acknowledge it, then He will pardon it. You then who have done so wrongly, do so no more: it is not lawful.

3. But if you have done so already, and have such money in your possession, and have filled your coffers thereby, and were heaping up treasure by these means: what you have comes of evil, now then add not evil to it, and make to yourselves friends of the mammon of iniquity. Had Zacchaeus what he had from good sources? Read and see. He was the chief of the publicans, that is, he was one to whom the public taxes were paid in: by this he had his wealth. He had oppressed many, had taken from many, and so had heaped much together. Christ entered into his house, and salvation came upon his house; for so said the Lord Himself, This day is salvation come to this house. Now mark the method of this salvation. First he was longing to see the Lord, because he was little in stature: but when the crowd hindered him, he got up into a sycamore tree, and saw Him as He passed by. But Jesus saw him, and said, Zacchaeus, come down, I must abide at your house. You are hanging there, but I will not keep you in suspense. I will not, that is, put you off. You wished to see Me as I passed by, today shall you find Me dwelling at your house. So the Lord went in unto him, and he, filled with joy, said, The half of my goods I give to the poor. Lo, how swiftly he runs, who runs to make friends of the mammon of iniquity. And lest he should be held guilty on any other account, he said, If I have taken anything from any man, I will restore fourfold. He inflicted sentence of condemnation on himself, that he might not incur damnation. So then, you who have anything from evil sources, do good therewith. You who have not, wish not to acquire by evil means. Be good yourself, who does good with what is evilly acquired: and when with this evil you begin to do any good, do not remain evil yourself. Your money is being converted to good, and do you yourself continue evil?

4. There is indeed another way of understanding it; and I will not withhold it too. The mammon of iniquity is all the riches of this world, from whatever source they come. For howsoever they be heaped together, they are the mammon of iniquity, that is, the riches of iniquity. What is, they are the riches of iniquity? It is money which iniquity calls by the name of riches. For if we seek for the true riches, they are different from these. In these Job abounded, naked as he was, when he had a heart full to Godward, and poured out praises like most costly gems to his God, when he had lost all he had. And from what treasure did he this, if he had nothing? These then are the true riches. But the other sort are called riches by iniquity. Thou dost possess these riches. I blame it not: an inheritance has come to you, your father was rich, and he left it to you. Or you have honestly acquired them: you have a house full of the fruit of just labour; I blame it not. Yet even thus do not call them riches. For if you call them riches, you will love them: and if you love them, you will perish with them. Lose, that you be not lost: give, that you may gain: sow, that you may reap. Call not these riches, for the true they are not. They are full of poverty, and liable ever to accidents. What sort of riches are those, for whose sake you are afraid of the robber, for whose sake you are afraid of your own servant, lest he should kill you, and take them away, and fly? If they were true riches, they would give you security.

5. So then those are the true riches, which when we have them, we cannot lose. And lest haply you should fear a thief because of them, they will be there where none can take them away. Hear your Lord, Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where no thief approaches. Then will they be riches, when you have removed them hence. As long as they are in the earth, they are not riches. But the world calls them riches, iniquity calls them so. God calls them therefore the mammon of iniquity, because iniquity calls them riches. Hear the Psalm, O Lord, deliver me out of the hand of strange children, whose mouth has spoken vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of iniquity. Whose sons are as new plants, firmly rooted from their youth. Their daughters decked out, adorned round about after the similitude of a temple. Their storehouses full, flowing out from this into that. Their oxen fat, their sheep fruitful, multiplying in their goings forth. There is no breach of wall, nor going forth, no crying out in their streets. Lo, what sort of happiness the Psalmist has described: but hear what is the case with them whom he has set forth as children of iniquity. Whose mouth has spoken vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of iniquity. Thus has he set them forth, and said that their happiness is only upon the earth. And what did he add? They are happy the people that has these things. But who called them so? Strange children, aliens from the race, and belonging not to the seed of Abraham: they called the people happy that has these things. Who called them so? They whose mouth has spoken vanity. It is a vain thing then to call them happy who have these things. And yet they are called so by them, whose mouth has spoken vanity. By them the mammon of iniquity of the Gospel is called riches.

6. But what do you say? Seeing that these strange children that they whose mouth has spoken vanity, have called the people happy that has these things, what do you say? These are false riches, show me the true. Thou findest fault with these, show me what you praise. You wish me to despise these, show me what to prefer. Let the Psalmist speak himself. For he who said, they called the people happy that has these things, gives us such an answer, as if we had said to him, that is, to the Psalmist himself, Lo, this you have taken away from us, and nothing have you given us: lo, these, lo, these we despise; whereby shall we live, whereby shall we be happy? For they who have spoken, they will undertake to answer for themselves. For they have 'called' men 'who have' riches 'happy.' But what do you say? As if he had been thus questioned, he makes answer and says, They call the rich happy: but I say, Happy are the people whose is the Lord their God. Thus then you have heard of the true riches, make friends of the mammon of iniquity, and you shall be a happy people, whose is the Lord their God. At times we go along the way, and see very pleasant and productive estates, and we say, Whose estate is that? We are told, such a man's; and we say, Happy man! We speak vanity. Happy he whose is that house, happy he whose that estate, happy he whose that flock, happy he whose that servant, happy he whose is that household. Take away vanity if You would hear the truth. Happy he whose is the Lord his God. For not he who has that estate is happy: but he whose is that God. But in order to declare most plainly the happiness of possessions, you say that your estate has made you happy. And why? Because you live by it. For when you highly praise your estate, you say thus, It finds me food, I live by it. Consider whereby you really live. He by whom you live, is He to whom you say, With You is the fountain of life. Happy is the people whose God is the Lord. O Lord my God, O Lord our God, make us happy by You, that we may come unto You. We wish not to be happy from gold, or silver, or land, from these earthly, and most vain, and transitory goods of this perishable life. Let not our mouth speak vanity. Make us happy by You, seeing that we shall never lose You. When we shall once have gotten You, we shall neither lose You, nor be lost ourselves. Make us happy by You, because Happy is the people whose is the Lord their God. Nor will God be angry if we shall say of Him, He is our estate. For we read that the Lord is the portion of my inheritance. Grand thing, Brethren, we are both His inheritance, and He is ours, seeing that we both cultivate His service and He cultivates us. It is no derogation to His honour that He cultivates us. Because if we cultivate Him as our God, He cultivates us as His field. And, (that you may know that He does cultivate us) hear Him whom He has sent to us: I, says He, am the vine, you are the branches, My Father is the Husbandman. Therefore He does cultivate us. But if we yield fruit, He prepares for us His garner. But if under the attention of so great a hand we will be barren, and for good fruit bring forth thorns, I am loth to say what follows. Let us make an end with a theme of joy. Let us turn then to the Lord, etc.

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Source. Translated by R.G. MacMullen. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/160363.htm>.

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