vain riches

Once upon a time, a kingdom was terrorized by a ferocious lion that kept killing people randomly. The situation became so unbearable that the kindhearted King  of the kingdom promised to give half of his kingdom to anyone who could kill the daredevil beast so that peace and calm could return to the land.

Immediately after the King’s pronouncement, most of the men from the kingdom took their fighting arsenals to search for the lion and to have it killed in view of getting half of the kingdom as the king promised. During the search, some of the men were killed by the lion, others sustained various degrees of injury while many ran away, However, one young man was skillful enough to monitor the lion for some days and discovered his tracks and his resting place. One day he went by himself and while the lion was resting he killed him.

The young man was overjoyed considering the promise of half of the kingdom. He quickly carried the huge lion on his back and started going home. On his way, he saw a grasscutter from a distant and dropping the lion, he took his bow and with one aim he killed it and took it. Further down the bush path, he saw a squirrel  and again using his bow and arrow he got it down and added it to the lion and the grasscutter.

He was about leaving the forest when he saw the nest of a very rare bird on a tree branch and he was sure that the bird was laying eggs and he dropped the animals he caught and climbed up the tree to collect the eggs. The bird flew away when he saw the man but came back for an attack to save the eggs. While the man was trying to scare the bird he missed his step and branch he was standing on broke and he felled into a deep ditch, broke his neck and died immediately.

After some time, another young man, who has also been involved in the hunt for the lion, came along and saw the lion and the other two dead animals but could not see anyone. He quickly picked the lion and ran straight to the King’s palace to announce that he had killed the lion. The King was deeply delighted and immediately fulfilled his promise of giving half of his kingdom to the young man and added a lofty title to his name,

The lesson from this story is as simple as the story itself. Often times the desire to have increased by having. Often times also this desire to have more could lead us to lose what we have already acquired. Contentment is a virtue that does not obey most people.

It is on account of this insatiable palpitation in most of us that the Preacher today in the First Reading (Eccles.1;2; 2:21-23) maintained that all is vanity whereof a man will work and toil with wisdom, knowledge, and skill while another man will enjoy the fruit of the toil. No matter how rich and wealthy anyone could be, it all ends at the moment of death. Hence, it is all vanity accumulating so much only to leave them at that point when we die. In spite of the vastness of their riches, the wealthiest men and women of the world (John D. Rockefeller and others) could still bow to death and leave their riches to others.

We have a more practical treatment of our theme of reflection in the Gospel Today (Luke 12:13-21). It began with a direct question from an unnamed person in the crowd who wanted our Lord Jesus Christ to tell his brother to give him his own share of their inheritance. His brother may have been there in the crowd. But our Lord gave an answer that showed the heart of the complainant beyond his complaint. His response to him showed the innermost personality of the man rather than his case.

After distancing himself from being the judge between him and his brother, our Lord instructed him, as well as the crowd (and all of us), to beware of all covetousness. Covetousness has to do with greed, grasping or excessive desire for material acquisition. To make his point more understandable, our Lord brought in a parable.

In the parable, a man was shown as being very successful in farming that he had more than his barns could contain. Faced with so much and little space for what he had acquired, he began to indulge himself with a monologue. In his intrapersonal discourse, he thought about pulling down his barns and building larger ones to commodate all he had acquired and then he would chillax and enjoy himself for many years. But that was the very day that God made a demand for his soul and all his plans ended abruptly.

The man in question did not get his riches by any evil means. He was blessed with a rich harvest as we were told; in fact, it was more than he expected. Where he got it wrong was his clear selfishness and covetousness. He did not remember those who might be in need with empty stomachs. He did not remember that there are neighbours whose barns were empty. He did not realise that God gave him so much so that he can feed so many. In his monologue, he was not even concerned about his family not to mention other people. Hear him again: “…And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.”

The world would have been a better place if the wealth in the world could be shared according to needs not according to selfish aggrandisement. It is unimaginable the amount of wasted food that comes out of the homes of many rich people in the world and the number of poor people around the world who go to bed every day hungry. While some rich people are looking for newer destinations to spend their holidays in cosy resorts, most poor people in the world are searching for a legroom for the night.  Do we not still have many rich fools around us who prefer to expand their estates to giving a little comfort to few needy persons?

The man was rightly called a fool. It is foolish really to be materially rich and then fail to reach others. It is foolish to make plans for the soul without consulting the owner of the soul. It is foolish to make material expansion without a corresponding spiritual expansion. It is foolish to depend on the arm  of flesh while the heart is drawn away from God (Jer.17:5).

Riches and wealth come from God (Prov.10:22) and no one succeeds by his (her) own strength; it all comes from God (1 Sam.2:9). With these in mind, we ought to see riches as divine provisions to aid our eternal journey. This means that riches should not be allowed to master our lives; that is actually when they become vain. The Psalmist (62:10b) advised that when riches increase you should not set our heart upon them.

Beyond vain riches, we are called upon today to focus on the giver of riches; God Himself. St. Paul gave the following instruction to Timothy (6:17) and this is also very relevant to us in our day and age: “Command the rich of this world not to be arrogant or put their trust in the uncertainty of wealth. Let them rather trust in God who generously gives us all we need for our happiness”.

In the Second Reading today (Col.3:1-5; 9-11) St. Paul enjoined us to set our minds on things that are above, not on the things that are on earth below. material wealth and riches are below but God is above.

To focus on God in the midst of the riches around us is a direct call on us to be altruistic and charitable. Imagine if the rich man in the Gospel had said to himself: “I will give out the excess from my harvest to the poor and needy!” Do you think a demand would have being made of his soul that very day? On the contrary, God would have allowed him to live longer and blessed him more to give out more to others. When we share we represent and reproduce God who is the ideal giver and sharer.

As we march into the new week may we look beyond vain riches and reach God and our fellow human beings. More gracious days ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.


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