Matthew 6:24 states, “No one is able to be a slave to two lords. For he will either hate the one and the other one he will love or he will adhere to and the other one he will despise. You are not able to be a slave to God and mammon (property, possessions, the things that one owns).” As I have already mentioned Jesus leaves no room for a gray area. These are the words in which I am responsible to have translated and thought through with respects to what is meant and how we can apply these words fully and consistently with regards to the whole Word of God. No pressure at all.
The first word that we find in this passage is the word “no one.” It literally means “no one.” There is not a whole listing of possible interpretations for this word in which we can selectively choose from in order to press a different agenda or meaning with regards to the text. What this also means then is that this is all-inclusive. As Michael Jackson states in one of his songs, “It doesn’t matter if you are black or white.” It also doesn’t matter if you are poor or rich, young or old, male or female, Jew or Gentile. Everyone is on the same level as everyone. That might seem like a small note to mention but it is an important one to remember.
The next short phrase of this passage is “is able.” This word ultimately carries with its meaning a reference to “impossible” or “not strong enough.” What we can gather than from these first three words is that anyone who has a heartbeat and breaths air has a dilemma in which they are unable or not strong enough to do. This greatly contradicts what I have always believed since I was a young kid. I thought, and sometimes still think, that I am able to do everything and anything. As a maturing Christ, I am learning that there are many things I am unable to do though in my own strength and/or efforts. What Jesus is telling us here is that there is yet another thing in which we are unable to do something.
The phrase that follows states that no one is able “to be a slave to two masters.” The word, “slave” carries with its meaning a reference to being a bond slave. A bond slave is an individual who would make a decision to serve his master for the rest of his life. When an individual would make this decision, the master would take the individual to the side of a door post, stretch out his ear, and puncture a hole into the slave’s ear so that it would be known not only to the master and the slave, but to anyone that saw him, that he had made a decision to become a bond slave to his master. This is truly significant. Jesus is saying that it is impossible for anyone to be a bond slave to two masters or lords. When I visually think about the ramifications of what this would look like, I visualize a bond slave with two holes in the same ear right next to one another. No only would this be ridiculous but it would not be accepted. Any Jewish landowner would understand this statement and most likely, despite the messages Jesus usually taught to the crowds, probably stood and listened, nodding their heads in agreement. It wouldn’t be right on either account to accept a duel bond slave. One bond slave to one mater – there is no room for a gray area.
Jesus then uses descriptive words that enforce His previous statement. Love and hate do not need any explanation. Neither do the words “hold onto” or “despise.” Again, these are words any good Jewish landowner would have understood. This is not a rocket science experiment. This is a very simple and basic understanding in which everyone agreed.
It is the final statement of Jesus’ words I would like to reflect on more fully. Jesus states, “You are unable to be a slave to God and mammon.” We know who God is (at least we should). The Jewish people hearing this message certainly did as well. It is this strange word that we struggle with the most – mammon. In most Bibles, the word has been translated as “possessions, property, wealth, money, or belongings.” Though we are not 100 percent sure in what Jesus meant when using this term, we do now that it was contrary to God. Based on what we already know about this passage, no one can serve two masters. If mammon was or is a god of sorts, we have come to understand the implications of what this means more. I believe the reason why it is difficult to translate this word is because it means a lot more than we are willing to suggest. Many people would rather try and reduce its meaning in order to convey a certain thought or belief. To me, it seems pretty obvious that Jesus is saying, “You either serve God or you don’t serve God.” To put it another way, Jesus is basically saying, “You have two options: Serve God or serve yourself. This is what you must determine. Do you want to be a bond slave to God or not? Once I puncture your ear, you cannot change your mind. What is your choice?” This is also a possibility that there is a play on of words that are happening here. Mammon, in the Hebrew is very close to the word “amen.” There are a couple of places in the Old Testament in which God is call “The Great Amen.” This is quite unique in its design.
In conclusion, Jesus’ words are simple in its writing but hard in its application. Once an individual decides to become a bond slave they are marked forever. It is no different in God’s eyes in how we are to respond as bond slaves of Him. God is calling us to make a decision to be marked as an obedient response to His goodness. That challenges what we in America have been taught to believe and speak. Can we really “pledge allegiance to flag of the United States of America” even though we are bond slaves to God? How are we supposed to understand this? In short, we can never allow any situation or event or thing take the place of God. Abraham was called to sacrifice his son so that God could see that He was more important then Abraham’s son; The rich, young, ruler was called to give everything he had and follow Jesus. I don’t know what Jesus might be calling you to give up. My only question is: “What is it that takes the place of God? What is the mammon in your life? Once we honestly assess these things, we are called to give it up, place our ear on the doorpost and allow the master to puncture our ear with a nail. Once we are marked, we will never be the same. Others will see it and know that we are the bond slaves to God alone. One really can’t serve two Gods. Which God are you going to serve?