by Peter Hancock
Some years ago I had occasion to meet a top professional footballer. I was fascinated to hear his story including the account of when he was to be transferred to one of the most prestigious clubs in the country. I thought: this is real “Roy of the Rovers” stuff, a personal living-out of the sort of storyline featured in the comic strip of that name, the fulfilment of a childhood dream.
I had managed to live until then with the innocent assumption that what motivated all footballers was the joy of playing but my childhood reveries were suddenly jolted as it became apparent that what most pleased this real footballer about this real transfer was that he was about to become the highest-paid player among his peers. The goal was money.
Since then we have seen how the market has changed the face of football in this country. Clubs are owned by billionaires from various parts of the globe, television deals produce eye-wateringly high pay-outs for the top clubs and the price of one visit to a match for a family could equal their monthly shopping bill. In to the bargain, an event such as the FA Cup Final, formerly the pinnacle of the season and a prominent feature in many a Roy of the Rovers storyline, has been reduced to a side-show, dwarfed by the marketing power of the Premiership and European Champions’ League.
When Jesus uses the name Mammon to refer to money he gives to it a personal and spiritual character, that of a rival god. Richard Foster in his book “Money Sex and Power”  which gives an alternative take on the three monastic disciplines of Poverty Chastity and Obedience, offers a cautionary analysis – “Money is not something that is morally neutral, a resource to be used in good or bad ways depending solely upon our attitude toward it. Mammon is a power that seeks to dominate us”.
We have seen recently that it is possible for a person in one of the most elevated positions in English football to lose that position as a result of the desire to add yet more money to an already sizeable pot of it. Such is the power, the attraction and the ultimately ruinous potential of Mammon. Doping scandals, bribery and cheating for financial gain in a variety of sports add further illustration to the truth spoken by St. Paul that “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6v9). And, of course, such considerations are not limited to the arena of sport.
John Wesley was not as extreme in his view of the inherent power of money as Foster but he did feel it necessary to offer guidance on its use. In his sermon no. 44 “On the use of money”,  he emphasised that we should see ourselves as stewards rather than proprietors, thereby debunking the illusion of ownership which motivates much of our economy. The sermon contains the threefold exhortation to “Gain all you can, Save all you can and Give all you can”. It is the third of these which points to the distinctiveness of a Christian attitude to money. There is nothing that puts money in its proper place like giving it away and thereby demonstrating that we are not possessed by it.
Foster speaks of the need to dethrone Mammon, to desecrate its altar and to engage in acts of disrespect towards it to demonstrate that it does not have ultimate power : “engage in the most profane act of all – give it away. The powers that energize money cannot bear that most unnatural of acts, giving.”  This is a healthy exercise not only for individuals but also for the Church. There can be a concerning level of veneration for money among us, a disturbing application of the values of the world in our decisions on how to use (or, more often, to hoard and not to use) our assets. We can be a little too grateful to benefactors and, overall, leave Mammon undisturbed on his throne.
Giving not only benefits the needy recipient, it also frees the giver from an unhealthy attachment to money and dethrones the god Mammon – real “Roy of the Rovers” stuff.
 Money, Sex and Power, Richard Foster 1985, Hodder and Stoughton, p 26
 John Wesley’s Forty-Four Sermons, Epworth Press, 1980.
 Money, Sex and Power p. 61