18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
In our first reading Qoheleth says, “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” The Hebrew word for vanity has the sense of “bubbles”. When we were children most of us had those little bubble blowers. Now, you can see guys in parks with much bigger ones. The bubble forms and refracts a rainbow of colors, then bursts. Such is our existence. Vanity of vanities. All things are vanity.
Jesus applies this viewpoint when someone asks him to settle an inheritance. Jesus tells about a man who has a bountiful harvest – a bumper crop. And what does the lucky man do? Unlike Joseph in Egypt he doesn’t think about how his good fortune can help others. Instead he falls into greed which is a form of pride. He says “my harvest”, “my barns”, “and my grain”. He starts imagining paradise on earth: “rest, eat, drink and be merry”.
He doesn’t realize his life hangs on a thread: maybe a clot moving to his heart or in his brain a vessel ready to break. He may own a lot of grain but he doesn’t own his life. That night God demands his life like a creditor calling in a debt. A rich man can buy a lot of things but no one can purchase his own life. Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
St Paul also picks up the theme of this life’s vanity. “Seek what is above,” says Paul, “(not) what is on earth.” Material things are good and necessary. They can, however, become idols – substitutes for God.
So much of our life is spent working. Much of it can be a burden and a drudgery. What we earn is so quickly spent on gas, insurance, the mortgage, and all the other expenses of life. Any money we do manage to save gets eaten up by inflation or taxes. It can make us want to cry out with Qoheleth in this Sunday’s first reading, “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!”
Is there any meaning to our work? Is the little money we are able to earn and save worth the effort? Can money really give us the security and status we think it can?
Today’s Gospel gives us some insight into these questions. Jesus tells the parable of a man who accumulates great wealth and thinks he is set for life. But there was something he had not considered. In fact, it turned out to be the most important thing — his immortal soul.
All of us want our families to be provided for when we die. We make sure we have life insurance to cover expenses and a will to ensure that all our belongings go to our loved ones. But have we taken the same care of our souls? Have we been so busy accumulating possessions on earth that we have neglected to build a treasure in heaven?
It is so easy to get lost in the monotony of life. We get up, go to work, come home, and then repeat the pattern day after day. When we have time to reflect, we wonder how the time has passed so quickly. We see our children and society changing, and we wonder how it happened. In all the running around, we find that we have lost ourselves. The things we thought mattered — security, status, success — do not seem so valuable to us anymore when we consider what we gave up to achieve them.
The good news is that work and possessions are not all there is to life. Through faith, we believe that we are created for something greater — to love and serve God in this life and to enjoy eternal life with Him in the next. We are only passing through this world on a journey to our eternal homeland in heaven.
The stock market goes up and down. Companies are created and go out of business. We save money, and we spend it. All of these are sources of frustration for us. But they point to a reality that should fill us with hope and joy. As this world is passing away, the kingdom of God is growing among us.
If all our hope and effort are invested in this world, then we will be sorely disappointed. But if our hope is in God and his kingdom, then we will be blessed beyond measure. The challenge for us is to live in this world, working and making use of material things, while setting our sights on the kingdom of God.
What if we worked as hard at impressing others with the holiness of our lives as we do at impressing them with our homes, cars, and social status? What if we prayed as hard as we worked? Then we would be able to put up with the drudgery of life and find a meaning that would sustain us, whether we have plenty of money or none at all. We would store up a treasure for ourselves in heaven far from the reach of inflation and taxes. And our lives would be marked by happiness and pleasure, rather than boredom and fatigue, because we would be living out the purpose for which we were created — to know, love, and serve our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Today take this home: Like a shimmering bubble our lives pass quickly and are soon forgotten. Jesus and the Church remain. Seek the things that are above. Only there will we find lasting security, genuine justice and unfiltered truth. “If you were raised with Christ seek what is above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Amen.
Fr. A. Francis HGN