“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money [i.e., possessions].” Matthew 6:24 English Standard Version (ESV)
In the Apostle Matthew’s account above, Christ addresses His disciples. In Luke’s account (Luke 16:13), though Christ is still addressing His disciples, we find out that the Pharisees were also listening and were having none of what He was saying. They ridiculed Him because, as the next passage says, they were greedy.
Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Let us shudder to think what [our sin requires] Christ to say [to shake us loose]; [to put] the name of God with that of gold. But if [His exclamation is] shocking, our preferring the tyranny of gold to the fear of God, [borne out by] our deeds, is much more shocking.
“What then? [Wasn’t serving both] possible among the ancients?” By no means. “How then,” says one, “did Abraham [or] Job obtain a good report?” …Job was rich, but he [did not] serve [wealth. Instead, he] possessed it and ruled over it, and [he] was [its] master [and] not [its] slave.
Therefore [Job] so possessed all those things, as if he had been the steward of another man’s goods; not only not extorting from others, but even giving up his own [goods] to them that were in need.
And what is more, when he had them they were no joy to him: so, he also declared, saying, “If I did so much as rejoice when my wealth waxed great:” wherefore neither did he grieve when it was gone.
Having given the example of godly Job as wealth’s master and not its slave, Chrysostom turns to the condition of his hearers and of us:
But they that are rich are not now such as [Job] was, but are rather in a worse condition than any slave, paying as it were tribute to some grievous tyrant. Because their mind, occupied by the love of money, is as a kind of citadel, [from which it] sends out…its commands full of all iniquity, and there is none to disobey.
[Therefore, do not be too clever.] …For God has declared and pronounced, [once for all, that] it [is]…impossible [to serve God and wealth]. [Do not say], then, “it is possible.” Why, when the one master is commanding you to [plunder] by violence, the other to strip yourself of your possessions; the one to [commit fornication], the other to [be chaste]; the one to be drunken and luxurious, the other to keep the belly in subjection; the one again to despise the things that are [as insufficient], the other to be riveted to the present [in contentment]; the one to admire marbles, and walls, and roofs, the other to [despise] these, but to honor self-restraint: how is it possible that these should agree?
Now [God] calls [wealth] here “a master,” not because of its own nature, but on account of the wretchedness of them that bow themselves beneath it. So also He calls “the belly a god,” not from the dignity of such a mistress, but from the wretchedness of them that are enslaved: it [is] a thing worse than any punishment, and enough, before the punishment, [by] way of vengeance on him who is involved in it.
For what condemned criminals can be so wretched, as they who having God for their Lord, do from that mild rule desert to this grievous tyranny, and this when their act [of desertion and enslavement] brings so much harm [here and now]? For indeed their loss by so doing is unspeakable: there are [judicial actions], and [oppressions], and strife, and toil, and a blinding of the soul; and what is more grievous than all, one falls away from [being God’s servant,] the highest of blessings…
Thus, we are called to make a choice; a different choice than the one Cain made:
The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:6-7 (ESV)