Not Mercenaries

Lenten Reflections 2015: Readings from Augustine

“Bend my heart to your testimonies, and not to greed” (Ps 118[119]:36).... The Apostle says, “Greed is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6:10). ... We should understand that the Apostle here is speaking of a genus by referring to one of its species, that is, by love of money he means a universal and general avarice, which is the real root of all evils. Our first parents would not have been deceived by the snake and cast down if they had not wanted to have more than they had received and to be more than they had been created to be. The snake promised them, “You will be as gods” (Gen 3:5), and because of this greed they were overturned: wanting to have more than they had received, they lost what they had received. A trace of this universal truth is detected in forensic law which establishes that a plea asking for more than is just fails, that is, if a person pleads for more than he is owed, he is to lose even what is owed to him.

But all greed is amputated from us if we worship God disinterestedly. That’s the challenge that the enemy made to the holy man Job in his trial: “Does Job worship God disinterestedly?” (Job 1:9) The devil was thinking that, in worshiping God, that holy man had a heart bent toward greed and for the sake of profit or advantage from the temporal goods with which the Lord had enriched him, like a mercenary serving him for that kind of reward. How disinterestedly he worshiped God, Job showed when he was put to the test.

If we have a heart that is not bent toward greed, we worship God only for God’s sake, and he himself is the reward of this worship. Let us love God in himself; let us love him in ourselves; let us love him in our neighbors whom we love as ourselves either because they have him or in order for them to have him. That such love is given to us by God is what is meant when it is said, “Bend my heart to your testimonies, and not to greed.” (EnPs 118[119], 6: PL 37, 1531)

Gratis amandus Deus–God is to be loved for his own sake–was often urged by Augustine. So here, was Job a just religious figure simply because he lived such a successful life, with many children and much wealth? Or did he love and serve God gratis, disinterestedly? If a woman loves her wealthy husband because of his wealth, he said elsewhere, she loves the wealth not the husband. Unless we are mercenaries, we don’t serve God for the sake of some reward other than himself, but simply out of love, gratis. And Augustine knew how to play upon the linkage between the adverb gratis and the noun gratia [grace]: God loved us gratis, when we were undeserving of that love. Our love in return, made possible by that gratia, must be equally gratis.

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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