18th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23 Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11 Gospel Reading: Luke 12:13-21
'RISE ABOVE MATERIALISM.'
One day the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose of showing him just how poor people can be. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what could be considered a very poor family.
On their return from the trip, the father asked his son, “How was the trip?”
“It was great, dad,” the son replied.
“Did you see how poor people can be?” asked the father again.
“Oh yeah!” said the son.
“So what did you learn from the trip?” the father inquired.
The son answered, “I saw that we have one dog, and they have four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden, and they have stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We have walls around our property to protect us, but they have friends to protect them.”
With this, the boy's father was speechless. Then his son added, “Thanks, dad, for showing me how poor we are!”
A man who shows his wealth is like a beggar, who actually shows his poverty; they are both looking for alms – the rich man for the alms of others' envy, the poor man for the alms of others' guilt.
Today is the 18th Sunday in Ordinary time. All the three Scripture Readings of today are well connected in theme and fit together like three panels of a colorful mural called “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” In other words, they warn us of the need to place our hope in the things of heaven, not on the passing things of this world. That is to say that we have to 'rise above materialism' and to strive for what is spiritual and divine.
“VANITY OF VANITIES! ALL THINGS ARE VANITY!”
"Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!" These opening lines of today’s First Reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes are quite famous. The word 'Vanity,' in Hebrew 'hebel,' literally means 'breath' or 'vapor' and is used to indicate something that is transient, futile, worthless, and empty.
"Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!" It therefore means that nothing lasts forever. It is a depressingly uncomfortable statement. But however depressing it may sound, it is an important statement because it calls our attention to that which is permanent. Something is temporary only because there is eternity. To prove how useless and vain the things of this life are, the author cites the example of a man who worked intelligently and skillfully and produced wealth and things of value. But he has to die and leave them to someone else to enjoy who did nothing to produce them. This is certainly foolishness on the part of man. That is 'vanity' in the sense of 'worthlessness.' After all the toil and worry he has to leave them behind and go empty handed.
When John D. Rockefeller died at the age of 98 at the beginning of the twentieth century, he was the wealthiest man in the world. And a reporter who was assembling his obituary asked his chief aide, “Just how much did your boss leave behind?” The aide answered, “All of it.”
The same is true for us. We will leave behind whatever we do not invest above. And how sad would it be, at the time of our death, if our bank account and coffers here on earth were bulging full and our storehouse in heaven is empty and bare.
"Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!" Ecclesiastes therefore teaches us how to find meaning in life and gives us the understanding that all things in this life, the pleasures as well as the sufferings, are empty and purposeless. It tells us that there will come a day when all of us will be in our graves; so, it is useless to set out hearts on things that must be left behind when we die. Instead we should work at our relationship with God, because that will be the thing that lasts. Our life on earth is a succession of trials and troubles, labor and lamentations, folly and frustrations. But if the world is seen in the light of God’s revelation, it is a gift of God to man, the most useful and necessary gift. It is a bridge between our earthly and our eternal life. It is different for those who toil for spiritual labor. Their recompense is being accumulated in Heaven, their rewards awaiting them on judgment day. Their spiritual treasures will never depart from them.
“THINK OF WHAT IS ABOVE, NOT OF WHAT IS ON EARTH.”
The Second Reading of today from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians is also on the same target. In this reading we are reminded that the life of a Christian should reflect the values of Jesus. St. Paul says, “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Here Paul is not telling us to close our eyes to mundane realities and, hoping for the best, keep looking heavenwards. Rather he is urging us to identify our understanding of life, our values, with those of God, which have been communicated to us by the life and words of Jesus. He reminds the Colossian community, and us too, that in Baptism we have become new persons as we have been raised with Christ. There we find the perfect image of God in Jesus who is the perfect pattern of life for us. That's why St Paul counsels, “Put to death then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience.”
In following Christ's way, we are to 'strip off old behavior and the old self.' In Christ, we have put on a new self, which shares the same vision of life and the same value system and the same goals as those that Jesus proposes. It involves being ever more 'renewed in the image of the creator,' of whom Jesus is the perfect model. To grow more and more like Jesus is to grow more and more into the image of God, by whom and for whom we were created. In this image there is no division, there is only unity and as Paul says, “Christ is all and in all.”
PUTTING OUR TRUST ONLY IN GOD:
Even the Psalm today, Psalm 90, strikes this same note of 'putting our trust only in God' and not in physical things. The psalmist explains that when we are born we are like blades of grass springing up anew at dawn, but by evening wither and fade. The psalmist prays that we can gain the wisdom that lets us see that God is our end, and so live our lives on a path to that end, shouting joy and gladness all our days because we seek the Lord. Let this new place of worship be where we can shout joy and gladness to the Lord, and keep us on that right path.
THE PARABLE OF THE RICH FOOL:
As so often happens, Jesus tells a parable because someone has asked him a question. The Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke starts with someone in the crowd asking Jesus to adjudicate between him and his brother - “Master, tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance.” It wasn't uncommon to bring such disputes to a rabbi to be solved. But Jesus declines, and tells the man that he is not a lawyer or arbitrator; and in response, he warns the crowd about the trap of earthly possessions and cautions them to watch against avarice or greed - “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions.” Then to illustrate his point Jesus tells 'the Parable of the Rich Fool,' which relates not only to the situation of the two brothers, but also validates the earlier readings that we have heard today.
Today’s parable highlights the inevitable connection between riches and death. In the parable, there is a rich man whose lands have yielded more crops than expected. He wondered what to do with it. He decided to tear down his barns and build larger ones in which to store his grains and other goods for the future. Then he will have many things stored up for years of eating, drinking, and making merry. He has what he thinks is a brilliant idea. In his own eyes, he has been really 'successful.' But all of his industrious planning is cut short, for God tells him, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?" The rich man eagerly looked forward to a life of abundance and leisure, unaware that he was to die that very night.
Surely, the parable does not deny the need to plan for the future, but it asks us to look at wealth from the ultimate perspective. The man in the parable is called a fool, not because he is stupid, but because he does not appreciate the true purpose of his wealth. In the midst of his good fortune he has lost the sense of what is really important. For him the acquisition of material goods has become an end in itself. He imagines that he can control his life. Possessions create this kind of illusion. The rich man is really poor in the sight of God. He does not realize all that he has is a gift from God and does not even think about the possibility of sharing what he has with others.
Jesus concluded the parable with the words, “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” The indictment against those who are obsessed with material possessions should make us focus on what is essential. Here there is sharp division between the essential and the non-essential … eternal possessions and temporal possessions.
Today's Gospel Reading speaks of the right attitude towards possessions. On the first level Jesus is addressing the young man’s brother perhaps who is being selfish in not sharing his inheritance. On the other hand, he is talking to us and saying that we need to put our trust in God and not in fleeting material things, just as we heard in the other readings also.
Possessions are necessary for life. But possessions can assume such an importance in one’s life that they become obsessions. When one is so consumed with the things that one could have, so much so that one no longer hears the urgent call of God, then one has indeed got one’s priorities all mixed up. Quite honestly, for many of us Christians these priorities often take precedence over our following of Christ. But, a person's life does not consist of possessions. There is more to life than the accumulation of possessions. What one has accumulated, he has to leave behind. No matter how wide one’s lands might be, at the end he would lie on a narrow piece of soil. We cannot bring along even a single nail from our coffin. Likewise, if ever we have accumulated knowledge it is best left behind as wisdom for those whom we have counseled and mentored.
God has indeed blessed us enormously, but we need to 'rise above materialism,' we need to share our blessings, we need to find ways to build up our accounts in heaven. And this is the Good News of today.