“No man can serve two masters” (Matthew 6, 24) is a frequently quoted phrase from the Bible. Maybe it was true in the past, but it does not seem to hold true in the modern world. I became aware of that several years ago, when I myself had to serve two masters.
I had the task of organizing training courses for overseas missionaries when I was asked to do some work for a government agency. The government had opened an Overseas Development Agency, and I was asked to help prepare their agents for work overseas. The courses in languages, cultural anthropology, and diversity were similar to the missionary courses, but the context was secular. I was serving a second master. There was no difficulty.
I knew many people who were holding down two jobs, and effectively serving two masters without any difficulty. One good friend was a scientist by day in a hospital lab, and a musician by night in a downtown singing pub. He had no difficulty serving his two masters, and keeping on good terms with both.
So the phrase, “No man can serve two masters” was being contradicted by the ordinary experience of everyday life. It bothered me that this questionable phrase was attributed to the Master whom I believed to be the wisest in all matters, human and divine. I wondered if it could have been attributed falsely, or, since it was not originally spoken in English, could it have suffered in the translation.
Fortunately as a student I had six years study of classical Greek, so I was able to check the Greek text of Saint Matthew’s Gospel. I discovered that the English translation of the Greek should read, “No man can be the slave of two masters”. Now that makes sense.
A slave belongs totally and absolutely to the master. A slave has no free time. The ownership of master over slave is so total that it is hard to believe that some men had the audacity to think they could have such power over a fellow human being. But it makes sense to say that a slave who belongs totally to one master could not belong in any way to another.
The real message is that each of us belongs totally and absolutely to the Creator who keeps us in existence. To the Creator belong our primary loyalty and service. Within that primacy we can serve other causes, provided they are not in conflict with that primary loyalty and are secondary to it. “You cannot be the slave of God and of Mammon” (Luke 16, 13)
I remember meeting a young businessman, a millionaire in the paper business, who gave up his entire business, and devoted his life to promoting the message of Medjugorje. He had a conversion experience on a pilgrimage there that convinced him that he was the slave of his millionaire business. He believed that if he continued on that line he would end up disillusioned and unfulfilled.
I think that is a good example of someone who realized that he could not be the slave of two masters. So he decided against being the slave of a life that might bring wealth but not happiness.
You cannot be the slave of two masters. Ultimately you belong to your Creator. Once you acknowledge that fact in humility and truth, and live by it, you enjoy the freedom of the children of God. “If you remain in my word you will truly be my disciples; you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8, 31-32)