Vanity Of Vanities

Vanity Of Vanities All Is Vanity, 31ST JULY 2016

Here the gospel is emphatically telling us that a real and meaningful life cannot be attained from an abundance of material possessions alone. The rich man in the gospel reading must have thought that his future was secure, and that his existence so forward was under his own control. It must have come as quite a shock to him to be reminded that his life on earth was God’s to give and God’s to take away again. But it must also be admitted that in many of us there is a certain sneaking admiration and sympathy for this industrious man. For deep down in our human nature, there is in all of us, it could well be said, a streak of greed and covetousness, whether this is linked with our innate instinct for self-preservation, or is more essentially the heritage of original sin.

It has been said that greed is a sign of a lack of love in our lives, and that to make up for this want, we proceed to amass for ourselves all kinds of possessions and to strive for things that often bring us a mere fleeting satisfaction. We need only look around to find ample evidence of this in today’s world. We are surrounded on every side by the obsessive noise of the rat-race, a scramble to get on in the world by fair means or foul, the strident demands of greater remuneration for their services by some sections of society, backed up by the threat of putting the rest to intolerable inconvenience if these demands are not met. But the message of Jesus in today’s gospel reading is in complete contradiction to such self-seeking. In it he is indicating that, at some time or other, each one of us must face up to these questions – what am I seeking to attain here and now in this life, what for me is the meaning of existence in this world, and what are my hopes for the life hereafter?

As regards life here and now, we can be led astray by pursuing either of two extremes – the first a purely material one, which strives to put self first and regards all things, even other people, as means towards achieving one’s own selfish ambitions. If we adopt this approach to life, if we never consider that we have an eternal destiny also, then, Jesus is telling us, some day we are in for the shocks. The other extreme is that which sees no value whatsoever in striving for material gain. Why bother working at all is the attitude. We actually find an example of this among certain communities of the first Christians, when they thought that the second coming of Christ was at hand. St Paul, whose mind seemed to be ever preoccupied with spiritual matters, was also a realist. “If you do not work,” he told them bluntly, “then you do not eat.”

Virtues, strangely enough, theologians tell us, are the middle way between two extremes, the golden mean; the best course to follow. Our attitude towards worldly goods must pursue this approach in some way. On the one hand we have Christ’s total giving of himself. He came into the world in a place used to house animals; he departed from the world possessing nothing, not even clothes to cover his nakedness. But then, on the other hand, most of us stand in need of worldly goods, especially in the kind of society we live in. The one who is rich by human standards, and makes use of his wealth to employ others, and thereby enables them to provide for themselves and their dependents, is a better person in the eyes of God then the one who, while professing dedication to the gospel message, refuses to use his God-given talents for the welfare of those with whom he finds himself involved.

We lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven, not only through love of God but also through concern for our neighbour. In showing his compassion for the sick, the elderly, the sinner, God makes use of human instruments. In order to partake in this task, we must be open to Christ’s message, we must show determination, as the second reading strongly urges us, to “kill” the vices which are in us, especially greed which is the equivalent of worshipping a false god. There is nothing which can bring us to a more proper understanding of the value of material goods than that stark question of God in the gospel reading, “This hoard of yours, when the moment comes to face your God, whose then shall it be?’

Stay blessed!!!

BY: FR. RAPHAEL HESSAH Vanity Of Vanities

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