MAMMON-TWO WAYS TO AMASS WEALTH
Jesus is the poor man, infinitely and rigorously poor. Poor with an absolute poverty! The prince of poverty! The Lord of Perfect Destitution! The poor man who lives with the poor, who has come for the poor, who speaks to the poor, who gives to the poor, who works for the poor! Poor among the poor, destitute among the destitute, beggar among the beggars! The poor man of a great and eternal poverty! The happy and rich poor man, who accepts poverty, who desires poverty, who weds himself to poverty, who sings of poverty! The beggar who gives gifts! The naked man who covers the naked! The hungry man who feeds others, the miraculous and supernatural, who changes the men owning false riches into poor men, and poor men into those with real wealth.
There are poor men who are poor because they were never capable of acquiring wealth. There are other poor men who are poor because they give away every evening what they earned that day; and the more they give the more they have (as Jesus taught). Their wealth, the wealth of this second class of poor men, grows greater in proportion as it is given away. It is a pile which becomes greater as more is taken away from it. Jesus gave the perfect example by leaving the riches of heaven and becoming poor to reveal the pathway to real wealth.
Jesus was one of these poor men. Compared to one of them, men materially rich, rich as the world esteems wealth, rich with their chests of talents, mina, rupees, florins, shekels, crowns, francs, marks, and dollars, are only lamentable beggars. The money-changers of the forum, the great feasters of Jerusalem, the bankers of Florence and Frankfort, the lords of London, the multi-millionaires of New York, compared to these poor men are only unfortunate beggars, corrupted and needy; unpaid servants of a fierce master (Satan); condemned every day to assassinate their own souls. The wretchedness of such poverty is so terrible that they are reduced to pick up the stones that are found in the mud of the earth, and grope about in filth. Theirs is a poverty so repugnant that not even the poor succeed in bestowing on them the charity of a smile.
Read this carefully. Richness is a curse like work, but a harder and more shameful curse. He who is marked with the sign of wealth has committed, perhaps unconsciously, an infamous crime, one of those mysterious and unimaginable crimes which are nameless in human language. The rich man is either under the burden of the vengeance of God, or God wishes to put him to the test to see if he can succeed in climbing up to divine poverty. For the rich man has committed the greatest sin, the most abominable and unpardonable. The rich man is the man who has fallen because of an exchange: he could have had Heaven and he chose Earth. He could have lived in Paradise and he has chosen Hell. He could have kept his soul and he has exchanged it for material things. He could have loved and he has preferred to be hated. He could have had happiness and he has desired power. No one can save him. Wealth in his hands is a coin and weight which buries him alive under its icy mass; it is the tumor which consumes him still alive in his corruption; it is the fire which burns him and reduces him to a terrible, black mummy, a blind paralytic, black mummy, a ghostly carrion which everlastingly holds out its empty hand in the cemeteries of the centuries, begging in vain for the alms of charitable remembrance.
For him there is only one salvation: to become a poor man, a true and humble poor man; to throw away the horrible destitution of wealth in order to enter again into poverty. (Matt. 19:21) But this resolution is the hardest that the rich man can take. The rich man by the very fact that he is sickened by wealth cannot even imagine that the entire renunciation of wealth would be the beginning of redemption, and because he cannot imagine such an abandonment, he cannot even deliberate on it, cannot weigh the alternatives. He is a prisoner in the impregnable prison of himself. To liberate himself he must first be free.
The rich man does not belong to himself, but belongs to inanimate things. He has not the time to think, to choose. Wealth is a pitiless master who allows no other masters near him. The rich man cannot think of his soul, bowed as he is under the care of his riches, under his thirst to increase his riches, under the fear of losing his riches, under the material joys which are offered to him by those pieces of matter which are called wealth. He cannot even imagine that his sick, suffocating, mutilated, worm-eaten soul needs to be cured. He has taken up his abode in that part of the world which, according to contracts and laws, he has the right to call his, and often he has not even the time, the wish, or the power to enjoy it. He must serve it and take care of it,—he cannot serve or take care of his own soul. All his power of love is absorbed by these material things, which order him about, which have taken the place of his soul, which have robbed him of all his liberty. The horrible fate of the rich man lies in this double absurdity: in order to have the power to command men he has become the slave of dead things; in order to acquire a part (and such a very small part!) he has lost the whole. (Luke 18:22; Matt. 16:26)
Nothing is ours as long as it is ours alone. Outside of himself man can possess, actually own, nothing. The absolute secret of owning other things is to renounce them. Everything is given to him who has refused everything. But he who wishes to grasp for himself, for himself alone, a part of the goods of this world, loses both what he has acquired and everything else. And at the same moment he is incapable of knowing himself, or possessing himself, making himself greater. He has nothing more, not even the things which in appearance belong to him, but to which in reality he belongs; and he has never had his own soul, the one piece of property which is worth possessing. He is the most destitute and despoiled beggar of all the universe. He has nothing. How then can he love others, give to others himself and that which belongs to himself, exercise that loving charity which would conduct him so soon to the Kingdom? He is nothing and he has nothing. He who does not exist cannot change. He who does not possess cannot give. How then can the rich man, who is no longer his own, who has no longer a soul, transform a soul, the only possession of mankind, into something nobler and more precious?
"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Matt. 16:26; Mark 8:36) This question of Christ's, simple like all revelations, expresses the exact meaning of the prophetic threat. The rich man not only loses eternity, but, pulled down by his wealth, loses his life here below, his present soul, the happiness of his present earthly life.
"Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13) The Spirit and gold (mammon) are two masters who will not tolerate any division or sharing. They are jealous; they insist on having the whole man. And even if he wishes, the man cannot divide himself in two. He must be all here, or all beyond worldly things. For the faithful servant of the spirit, gold is nothing; for him who serves gold, "spirit" is a word without meaning. He who chooses the spirit throws away gold and all the things bought by gold; he who desires gold puts an end to the spirit and renounces all the benefits of the spirit: peace, holiness, love, perfect joy. The first is a poor man who can never use up his infinite wealth; the other is a rich man who can never escape out of his infinite poverty. By the mysterious law of renunciation the poor man possesses even that which is not his—the entire universe; through the hard law of perpetual desire, the rich man does not even possess that little which he believes to be his. God gives immensely more than the immensity which He has promised. Mammon takes away even that very little which he promises. He who renounces everything has everything given him; he who wishes a part for himself alone, finds himself at the end with nothing. "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 19:23)
When the horrible mystery of wealth is deeply probed, it is easy to see why the masters of men have considered wealth the kingdom of the Demon himself. A thing which costs less than everything else is bought by everything else. A thing which is nothing, the actual value of which is nothing, is bought by giving up everything, is secured by exchanging for it the whole of the soul, the whole of life. The most precious thing is exchanged for the most worthless.
And yet even this infernal absurdity has its reason for being, in the economy of the spirit. Man is so universally and naturally drawn by that nothingness called wealth that he could only be deterred from his unconscious search for it by putting a price so great, so high, so out of all proportion that the very fact of paying it would be a valid proof of insanity and crime. But not even the conditions of the bargain, the eternal exchanged for the transient, power for servitude, sanctity for damnation, are enough to keep men away from the absurd bargain with the powers of evil. Poor people do not rejoice that they are poor. Their only regret is that they cannot be rich; their souls are contaminated and in peril like those of the wealthy. Almost all of them are involuntarily poor men, who have not known how to make money and yet have lost the spirit; they are only poverty-stricken rich people who have not as yet any cash.
For poverty, voluntarily accepted, joyfully desired, is the only poverty which gives true wealth, spiritual wealth. Absolute poverty frees men for the conquest of the absolute. The Kingdom of Heaven does not promise poor people that they shall become rich, it promises rich people that they shall enter into it when they become freely poor.