My daily budget during the last couple of years in college was only fifteen pesos – ten or so for lunch, and five for fare. You can imagine the daily routine with that budget: home-to-school and in reverse. A student’s happiness – and security – was being with family, friends and books, in that order. The first two provided emotional, social and psychological security. The third, as I was told, would provide the financial security in the future. And I mean, in the future!
As a young lad, I had my own insecurities. But financial insecurity was not one of them, as acquiring wealth was not an ingrained priority or a personal goal of mine. I only learned how others were affected by it. For instance, from the late Professor Tabujara, one of our most-respected engineering mentors, when he expressed his “insecurity” at having only 50 pesos in his pocket. Well, I did not have a family to feed, a car, a professorial chair and a consulting job in Makati; so, I had no idea how much he earned and how much he spent in a month and, therefore, how having only 50 pesos made him worry. (When I was at home, I held or kept no money at all – looking back, those were some of the most peaceful and contented moments in my young-adult life! In fact, it was then that I had my spiritual rebirth.) I was blissfully scratching a life on 15 pesos or so, on a daily grind. If he was insecure with 50, I felt grateful I did not have that kind of problem. Still, I entertained the thought of graduating eventually and building a career in life, somehow.
Surprising as it may seem to millennials, many young students in the late 70’s did not have gnawing financial insecurities. Movie stars did not flaunt their wealth then as many do today. (Media networks had not discovered their own money-generating potential through selling rubbish wholesale.) There were no smartphones or digital gadgets to make you aware of how much money flowed out there – legally and illegally. People who were rich, especially the filthy politicians, generally made us angry, not envious.
Our minds looked at the bigger world – how to change it for good, not how to earn a good living. For me, at least, money did not – and still does not – provide the security a person needs in this life. No, in reality, the insecurity eventually gets bypassed and taken over by fear. Not fear from not having enough money, because money seems to come when you need it. It is the fear of not finding the things of real value in life. In fact, after graduating, I was not caught up in a job-hunting fever like most fresh graduates today.
A few fellow-graduates came by the house one morning inviting me to apply at the top government economic-planning office that needed engineering grads. We turned that office into a happy extension of our college! And having an initial salary of 750 pesos monthly came as a welcome bonus! From an allowance of 300 each month as a student, it was not bad progress at all. I had been making 8 pesos monthly as a shoe-shine boy ten years earlier.
Yet, earning that much money did not make me a better money-keeper or money manager – or even eager to make some more, as most of my peers seemed to be. Even today, money remains an intractable slave and an uncooperative friend. And, I still believe there are better and bigger things to achieve in life.
One learns to value money according to the values bequeathed to you as a young person. As I said, money was not a source of genuine security for me. Living a simple life can provide the right amount of joy and fulfillment that much money often tends to cause people to overlook. It is a lesson that has to be lived and appreciated in transit and not through hearing words, reading books or seeing movies alone.
The drive to make money can be a good motivation to train a young person though life. But the cultural environment, as well as the general social and economic conditions, can turn that drive into a bad or disastrous motivating force. I cannot explain it; but I grew up not delighting in gambling or wanting to win money from others. Yes, I grew literally wide-eyed when our grandfather gave all of us kids crisp five peso bills – and I had the photo to prove it! But that was it; I had money to buy raisins with! Today, it is our turn to give crisp fifty peso bills to the kids. Life now is ten times — more OR less — valuable than it was in my childhood. Perhaps, learning to earn a little money as a kid (but enough to put some food on the table), when I was 12, made me see money as nothing but a tool and not an end in itself. Something that comes from living a decent and useful life, not something that creates or defines life (or success) itself.
So, why do some people grow crazy over money and what it can bring? Do you know how many houses the young celebrity you idolize owns around the world? How many cars? How many expensive watches? And shoes? Yes, money can be a tool for fulfilling your wildest dreams. And also for helping others. No doubt, all of these rich people share their millions to the unfortunate. Who else would do so? Well, if we counted all the money given to charity, we might be surprised to know that the ordinary people – who comprise majority of givers – give more than the rich do. Proof? Remember: St. Peter’s Basilica was built using money collected from the masses – referred to us “indulgences”. We know the story and we know the social and cultural revolution that it brought about.
Vacation houses, cathedrals, malls and luxurious things – these are just some of the things money can buy. But money cannot buy truth, faith, life, obedience, joy and love.
Nevertheless, there are certain things, such as malls, that stand apart for providing a way to make more money for the owner. No other endeavor provides more security to money-holders than business or investments (although symbolic or intangible things can bring great wealth, too – information and religion, for instance). And for some, making money out of money can be the biggest adventure or fulfillment in life. Wall Street comes to mind. And next to that is Las Vegas. Yes, casinos are the latest money magnets in this town. They have become tourist attractions and not just the former loathsome habitations of gangsters and other lawless vermin. All of these money-making engines the Bible refers to as the kingdom of Mammon, in general.
Now, calm down, if you are a faithful servant of God who happens to own a business empire or a small thriving business. You are, in effect, a “friend of Mammon”, as Jesus defined someone who lives in this world and essentially serves God and not the “Mammon of unrighteousness”. And somewhere, an ancient wise king also referred to the love of money as the “root of all evil”. Good for you, then, if your security is founded on the faithfulness of God and not in the abundance of your possessions! If you believe yourself to be a “child of light” and not a child of any of the worldly systems running this proud generation, you belong to those few who rank below the poor, in the eyes of God. For God exalts the humble and humbles the proud – for money is often the source of pride. Moreover, if you do not feel insecure that you only have 2 mansions, 3 luxury cars or 5 condominium units, then, you must be a happy and contented believer. A fair warning: Wealth can be a blinding trap.
Or a mind-destroying machine. Consider the recent gambler who went to a casino one day in order to steal and destroy because money had twisted his mind into an instrument of so much evil, and in the process killing himself and others. That behavior goes beyond insecurity or fear of not having money. Somehow, the worldly systems can brainwash our minds to see material things as the answer to our problems. Mammon is a living god who indwells many of our institutions and even our favorite things and hang-outs, waiting to ensnare anyone who gets close enough to his poisonous tentacles: religious cults, humanistic education, illegal drug trade, smuggling, gambling, corrupt politics, immoral entertainment and other seemingly innocent activities or enterprises.
There is no such thing as a small trap for Mammon. Facebooking can steal away at least an hour or two from a young student every night. This multi-billion enterprise feeds on many innocent people’s precious time to generate billions more. Interaction has become a cinch. But is it truly changing our lives for the better? Or are we merely given a new way to measure our insecurities by counting how many “likes” we get each day? Or how many selfies we post? Are we getting real value in exchange for the valuable time we invest in modern recreation and such interactive endeavors?
Businesses and other money-making enterprises have money to install cameras everywhere so that they can monitor people. Yes, Mammon has eyes to make sure that you behave; and when you misbehave, you are reprimanded or punished. He “has to be” the most secure being in the world – which, ironically, makes him the most insecure of all. Unfortunately, someone breached a casino’s security system to prove that Mammon is not that secure after all. No, not from God’s judgment! He is a mean god. His wealth is not there to make people happy but to make certain people (his minion-lords) rich and happy. Until we unmask Mammon and show his nakedness, more and more will fall prey to his dark schemes.
If death and destruction can arise from a man in search of wealth in a casino, much more so from a band of rebel-terrorists. It happened recently in Marawi City, Mindanao. It turns out that the rebels had targeted the financial center of the city and were indeed in possession of so much money, apparently looted from banks, homes or businesses of the occupied city. War is a big business or enterprise, we all know that. Whether we are talking of ideology, religion or government, Mammon has to have the biggest part in the economics. And people are more than eager to play along so they can enjoy the benefits of serving Mammon.
He who has the gold rules. The race to get to the gold creates wars and all kinds of evil and chaos. Those who run that race chase the elusive rainbow of wealth. For the kingdoms of this world are all fueled by Mammon’s wealth. And those who work for him we can easily recognize through their earthly possessions and their enjoyment of the goods, the spoils and the pleasures of this world. That also explains why the Lord Jesus Christ chose to live and walk among the poor.
Of course! For Christ, the lowly carpenter, said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He was talking to a feared ruler serving the king of the world’s biggest empire then — Caesar. Today, Christ reigns in Heaven — fulfilling and proving His statement, while all the Caesars, czars and kings have fallen down one by one. Those who reign on this Earth – all the wealthy rulers owning the lands, buildings, money, gold and even slaves, serve Mammon. If they served Christ, they would not be awash in the world’s gold and silver. Or in worldly power and influence.
Yes, we try to fit in to this world as believers. We find a way to be friends with Mammon without being stained by sin. So, what happens when a believer does enter a stronghold of Mammon? Or involves in one of his deals? Or engages in one of his dubious enterprises? Or even invests in one of his, well, securities?
Any normal person wants to save up for the future. Of feel secure when old age comes. What to do then, Lord?
A president, a farmer or a clerk can be a servant of God as long as he or she is but a “friend” of Mammon, not his servant. Those who think they can serve both God and Mammon are like people who look at a penny and see money but not the inscribed statement: In God we trust. They see the glitter, not the glory. They feel the great pride, not the great responsibility.
Let the Lord speak to us again: If the Mammon of unrighteousness (wealth, that is) is carefully and wisely invested — or spent – to make sure (that is, to secure) your eternal destiny, then you serve God, not Mammon. But if you spend your money satisfying your physical life here, you are a servant of Mammon. And a servant of Mammon is an enemy of God.
It takes wisdom to discern this essential principle. We have given enough examples and warnings to help us watch our steps. Most of all, let us pray to God that we will fully understand His will.