“He’s got the Midas touch” is an expression that is sometimes used to describe a person who is good at making money. The expression comes from Greek mythology. Dionysus, in reward for a kindness that Midas had done, offered him “anything that he would ask for.” Midas longed for wealth, so he asked that whatever he would touch would turn to gold.
On the way home, he tried out his new powers on an oak twig, and then a stone, both of which turned to gold. He was overjoyed at his new ability and looked forward to all the wealth he would literally create.
Once he arrived home, Midas ordered a great feast. The table was set and servants brought in a great amount of food. The problem with Midas’ new power soon became evident. He picked up an apple, but it turned to gold. When he began to drink some wine, it too turned to gold. Any piece of food he touched would turn to gold.
He soon cursed the new found wealth and realized it was starving him. In the end, Midas begged Dionysus to remove the gift, which he did. The point of the story is that wealth can be alluring, but it can also destroy. The desire for wealth can be consuming and debilitating.
The readings for today’s liturgy deal with our relationship with possessions. Jesus tells us: “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
Mammon is an expression for money, possessions or something that is associated with the greedy pursuit of wealth. Jesus is not saying that possessions are necessarily bad, but they can be if they master the person. The saying is pretty clear and straightforward. The parable which precedes it however, can be a little confusing.
The parable is sometimes called the “Parable of the Dishonest Servant.” Reading over the text, one might get the impression that Jesus is praising the steward for his deviousness handling of the situation. On a closer read, we discover something different.
Jesus is using the dishonest servant as an example for his effort, not for what he actually accomplishes or the way he does so. In using this example, Jesus points out how much thought, ingenuity and practical action the steward takes in trying to secure his position and wealth, things that will have only temporary value. Jesus then invites us who hear him to consider the effort we make in securing things that have eternal value. This eventually leads to the contrast between the two masters, God and mammon.
The first reading from the prophet Amos also deals with the pursuit of wealth. In this case, the pursuit of wealth is done so at the expense of the poor and the needy. Amos addresses those who “trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.”
These are the ones who long for the “new moon” and the “sabbath” to be over. During such times, there would be restrictions on work and the exchange of goods. The restrictions allowed time for the community and its members to spend time in worship, rest and with family. For these people, the pursuit of wealth — and dishonest wealth at that, achieved by diminishing the ephah, adding to the shekel and fixing the scales — takes precedence and priority. And so the prophet says: “Never will I forget a thing they have done!”
King Midas had a great desire for wealth. When he realized that his quest was going to kill him through a slow and agonizing death, he begged to have the golden touch removed. Jesus invites us to consider a basic outlook on life — the way of the Lord and the way of possessions. He urges us to choose the way of the Lord, and to apply ourselves to that path with eagerness, ingenuity and zeal, for this is the path that leads to life.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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