18th Sunday in OT / C / 2019
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Sometimes all three readings come together into a single theme—and this 18th Sunday is one of them. They express a truth that has to be repeated over and over, from generation to generation. And the truth is this: nothing in this world will last. Everything is passing. Eventually, all things will fade away, disappear, turn into dust.
Our first reading puts it pretty bluntly: "Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!" The famous line from the Book of Qoheleth, or Ecclesiastes. That word vanity . . . one scholar says that a better translation of the Hebrew word would be "bubbles." Just air. Fleeting. Fragile. Unstable. Beautiful for a moment. Then pop! Just bubbles!
Qoheleth compares that bubble to life. That’s the way life is. He uses the example of a businessman who works hard, with great diligence, and accumulates many things. But what good are these things—he has to give it all up because he can take nothing from this life.
And who was this Qoheleth? We don’t really know. The word simply means "one of the assembly." Tradition has ascribed the book to King Solomon, who had everything; but in the end, Solomon said his possessions amounted to nothing more than a "chasing after wind." You will never catch the wind.
St. Paul. in our second reading from Colossians, says the same thing, but he puts it more poetically and theologically. "Seek what is above," he says, not what is on earth. Everything in this life is passing, insubstantial, fleeting. So don’t set your heart on it—you’ll only be disappointed. Rather, set your heart on the things of heaven—which are eternal and will never disappoint.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells a parable that illustrates beautifully everything I have just said. A very successful farmer, or businessman, who accumulates and accumulates and accumulates until he doesn’t have any room to accumulate any more. He possesses way beyond what he needs, but he
still desires more. It never occurs to him that he could share his wealth. Instead, he decides to build larger barns! And he is so pleased with himself that he says, "rest, eat, drink, be merry!"
Then the punchline: "But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you!’" This man’s whole life was dedicated to accumulating possessions—and what good are they now?
Jesus concludes, "Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God." You can almost hear Qoheleth, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
What Luke wants us to consider is our relationship with money and possessions: how does the Christian live with money and possessions? How to be generous with your possessions. How to possess something and not have it possess you! How to take a kind of "disinterested view" of possessions while still recognizing what good they can do. Emphasizing what you need, not just what you want.
If you can do this, you will enjoy life now . . . and into eternity!