The key to a realistic understanding of both

THIS SUNDAYS OLD [ECCLESIASTES 1: 2. 2: 21 – 23] and NEW TESTAMENT [COLOSSIANS 3: 1 – 5. 9 – 11] READINGS is to be found in the closing phrase of the Old Testament extract: “even in the night his mind does not rest.

Both these extracts could easily be interpreted as signalling a disinterest in our work and labour in the world in which we live. Let us remember that Saint Paul also said: “we laid down the rule: the man who will not work shall not eat …. minding everyone else’s business but their own

{2 Thessalonians 3: 10 – 11}.

The Christian is called to mind his business – both figuratively and literally. However, these concerns must never extinguish efforts to “seek the things that are above.” There is a hidden life of greater importance, and this can easily be prejudiced if we do not “put to death” material obsessions which eat away at “the new man” created by Christ. We have, in other words, to adopt a specific Gospel approach to possessions, life and work.

This is why the Old Testament reading draws our attention to the vanity which instils in people the need to achieve more and more, irrespective of the real needs of life and living. If even at night we find ourselves stressed by material advance and achievements, then the warning bells should be ringing loud and clear. Vanity should never be limited to matters of physical and material appearance.

Another important consideration which emerges from the Old Testament reading emerges from “sometimes a man who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by a man who did not toil for it.” Here we are faced with two distinct vanities. Firstly, why is it that so many people become embittered by the perceived failure of ‘the powers that be’ to acknowledge and reward good, successful, efforts. The ‘after all I have done’ syndrome too easily becomes a cancer which is both debilitating and, indeed,

IS vanity! We all need to learn the lesson taught by the Lord when he said “so with you: when you have carried out all your orders, so you should say, ‘we are servants and deserve no credit: we have only done out duty’.” (Luke 17:10). Secondly, the envy that arises because of the success and achievements of others – especially those whom we dislike or judge to be undeserving of affirmation, promotion, or accolades. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” How often is it that we (perhaps secretly) rejoice in the failures of others … especially those towards whom we have an antipathy? This, too, is vanity!

Here,

TODAY’S PSALM [90 or 89] introduces us to the possibility of equanimity and a clear link with the teaching of Jesus quoted above. “Let the favour of the Lord be upon us; give success to the work of our hands.” The success of our work must always be seen, and acknowledged, as coming not from myself but from the Lord. I have merely used the talents with which HE has provided me. An enormous amount of our dissatisfaction and bitterness comes from VANITY! AND, much of this vanity arises from our forgetfulness of another fact highlighted by our Psalm – “You sweep them away like a dream, like grass which is fresh in the morning …. by evening it withers and fades.”

Everything which has been said comes together in

THIS SUNDAY’S GOSPEL [LUKE 12: 13 – 21. If you study these verses carefully, you will discern a powerful resonance with all the preceding scripture references, especially the Old Testament and Psalm.

First of all Jesus makes a direct reference to “covetousness.” The man concerned had no legal claim on “the inheritance” which was not intended to be divided. He wanted what was not his, and so, more than likely, even in the night his mind (did) not rest!

Then, the Lord immediately widens the net and provides another example of a person unduly concerned with entrenching his wealth even further. We are told that he was “a rich man,” and it is not difficult to posit that he, too, was fretting during the night with his imagined problem. There was no problem – his vanity and greed created one. He already enjoyed everything of the best – and was now consumed with finding a way of making the best better! “Fool!” A strong word from the Lord!

The moral of a story recently sent to me by a good friend comes to mind. When we already enjoy everything of the best, it is too easy to forfeit Christian values. Rather, than fretting over everything of the best, the Christian is called to make the best of everything!