Man does not live by bread alone
Deuteronomy 8:3

The writer of Deuteronomy warns his listeners of the danger of living only for bread at the expense of denying God a place in their lives. The issue raised by the writer is one that has plagued humanity from the time of creation until now. It draws our attention to the problem of materialism and the negative affects it has on people.

Contrary to popular belief in some quarters the material world is not evil in itself. We are material beings and we need bodily and material things for our existence. We need money, clothes, shelter, food and other material things for life. Without material and bodily necessities life cannot be lived and human existence would be compromised. Man does not live by bread alone but at the same time man cannot live without bread.

Christianity is not against the material things of life. Archbishop William Temple once said “Christianity is the most materialistic religion in the world.”  He was right; Christianity has a high regard for matter and this is highlighted in its doctrine of the Incarnation-God assumed human flesh and lived a human life. We are to enjoy life and the blessings of life and make the most of life.

A problem arises when we allow the material things to take the place of God in our lives. Materialism is a problem when it controls our lives, guides our thought and becomes the centre of our lives. Christianity is not opposed to material success; but it must serve the mental, social, physical and spiritual needs of people. Christianity’s primary concern is the human person.  Materialism is incompatible with Christianity because it makes life subservient to material things; it makes the sub-human superior to the human. When it serves only the physical needs of the person it becomes a bad master and not a good servant. When we view life from a purely materialistic point of view without any regard for people’s spiritual needs we turn people into monsters and life takes on a jungle experience. There is always the danger that material success and wealth can make us less human.

Materialism is unacceptable because it judges a person’s worth by what he or she possesses and fails to recognise that our human dignity is a gift from God. We are people of value and worth not because of what we have but because we are made in the image and likeness of God. It is sinful to equate a person’s worth with material possessions. It also judges a person’s worth by what he or she consumes. It makes a god out of consumerism and divides our society into haves and have nots. It fools us into believing that all we need for a happy and peaceful life is money. In this scenario the poor suffers and injustice flourishes. In a materialistic environment if you do not have possessions you are nobody and you are not given the respect you deserve as a human being. Whenever we use material success and consumerism to judge a person’s worth we can be certain that some people will be treated unkindly, and some will be oppressed and victimised.

Materialism is superficial and has no real depth; when put to the test it crumbles and falls but it never goes away because of the element of greed that dominates our lives. It makes the false promise that prosperity, money and pleasure translate into happiness. The emphasis on pleasure as a means to happiness is integral to materialism. See we developing in our society what I call a ‘culture of pleasure’ evident by the 24 hour parties, all day and all night fetes, the excessive consumption of alcohol, liberal sexual practices and behaviours, immodest dress and all the other negatives that are aimed at our young people. These practices give our young people a false value of life and in the process destroy them.  We all know that these promises are not true. The pursuit of amassing wealth and seeking pleasure leads to frustration and anger, disappointment and despair, when it is realised that these by themselves do not bring us inward peace. In a sense what it promises bring death and not life. It does not guarantee a fulfilled life. What profit is there if we gain the whole world but lose our souls?

People who allow materialism to control their lives are discontented individuals. They live discontented lives because materialism teaches that we must strive to always get more and more of the things of this life. It forces us to live above our means. It creates a rat race environment. It contributes to crime as we pursue our selfish ambitions and goals. It is propelled by greed and covetousness. We fail to recognise that when all is said and done the words of Ecclesiastes are true; all is vanity.

Within the business world materialism subscribes to the view that profit is more important than people; wealth is more important than human welfare. This is evident in the number of persons who are being retrenched under the guise of restructuring. Restructuring is really a euphemism for greater profits. How can businesses that make huge profits at the expense of workers sever them under the pretext of the need to restructure business? Such actions are inhumane, insensitive and a form of evil. They place profit above people, disregard the pain that can result from such policies, contribute to social dissatisfaction and unrest. Such policies are motivated by greed and selfishness and are not in the interest of the common good. Even if such businesses were to give to employees benefits above what the law requires their actions are still immoral. They are immoral because they place profit over and above people. At this crisis moment businesses and their share holders should be prepare to make smaller profits in the interest of the common good and keep persons employed so as to maintain their human dignity. Maybe we are asking too much or expecting too much. Is there a human face to materialism?

The church too is affected by  materialism; some Christians equate material success with Christianity. Called the gospel of prosperity it says that if you worship God all will be well, you will prosper in all that you do, you will be successful; you will be able to buy the biggest house and drive the most expensive car. The prosperity Gospel is materialistic in nature, a cheap form of Christianity, fraudulent, dishonest, and deceptive and it does not serve the interest of God. It serves the material interest of those who teach, preach and encourage it. But it attracts people and is popular because we serve the god of greed and fail like the secular world to understand that man does not live by bread alone.

Christians recognise the importance of material development but see it as a gift from God. The gifts of material success are to be used to God’s honour and glory and the benefit of humanity. They are not given for selfish use as is the case of materialism.

The folly of amassing wealth is highlighted in the parable of the ‘rich fool.’

`What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?'  And he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.'  But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

Jesus teaches that life is more than wealth: "Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." We must heed his advice: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”

Whenever we are tempted to make materialism our saviour we must remember the words of scripture: “We brought nothing into this world and we take nothing out.” Whatever we accumulate we have to leave behind at death. Whenever we are tempted to follow materialism we must remember the words from Ecclesiastes’ vanity of vanity all is vanity.”

We are not to labour for the bread of materialism which cannot save nor give true meaning to life.  We must labour for the true bread which gives life and sustains life. This bread is Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Jesus is the true bread that saves. The bread that makes it possible for us to live authentic lives. Listen to what he teaches in today’s gospel: “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."

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