Sunday Sermon for August 4, 2019, the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23; Col 3:1-5, 9-11; Lk 12:13-21
Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! This is one of the most famous lines in all of Scripture. However, when one considers the number of pursuits Qoheleth describes as vanity, many in our world today would strongly disagree. In the passage we have today he speaks about a person who has labored with wisdom, knowledge, and skill to obtain his material possessions, but must now leave these worldly treasures to someone who has not labored over them.
Most parents want to be able to leave something for their children, but the wise man calls this vanity. Why? Because he realizes that someone may simply squander what he has worked for over a period of years. But more than this, he bemoans the fact that he has no rest; he is filled with anxiety, sorrow, and grief. Compare that to the monk or nun who possesses nothing and is completely at peace. To be worried about worldly things is vanity, whereas to immerse one’s self in God is fulfillment.
The truth is that God has already immersed us in Himself. St. Paul tells us in the second reading that our life is hidden with Christ in God. For this reason, he says, we are to think of what is above, not what is on earth. He goes on to provide a list of examples of what is earthly and need, as he says, to be put to death. If they need to be put to death, then clearly they are all vanity.
St. Paul’s list includes immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, and lying. All of these are selfish and all of them lead to emptiness. What the devil and his minions tell us is that these are the things that will fulfill us and make us happy. While there may be a momentary enjoyment in some of these things, we must recognize that the perceived enjoyment is at the expense of another. In the long run, these selfish pleasures, counterfeits of what brings true joy, will end in emptiness and the same kind of anxiety, sorrow, and grief that demonstrates the vanity of these things.
Jesus speaks of the vanity of greed in the Gospel reading as well. Not only does He tell us to guard against greed, but He also teaches us that one’s life does not consist of possessions. After all, every possession we have will be left behind on the day we die. This might help to put Qoheleth’s statement into context. The vanity is not only leaving our possessions to someone who has not worked to obtain them; but realizing that nothing worldly for which we spent our time and energy is going to be taken with us when we die.
This is why our Lord tells the parable to explain what happens when one stores up treasure for one’s self and is not rich in the things that matter to God. Here is the critical distinction. Elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus tells us to store up treasure in Heaven. In our earthly way of thinking, material things seem important whereas the things of God seem unimportant. But on the Day of Judgment the pursuit of worldly things may affect us negatively while the pursuit of heavenly things will be in our favor.
For all eternity we will need nothing material: no money, no food, no clothes, nothing! In this world some of these things are necessities, but since they will all be left behind, why do we place so much value on them now? Perhaps what is most tragic is that those who put so much value in worldly possessions and so little value in the treasures of Heaven, will have none of these worldly possessions in hell. Of course, they will be completely devoid of any spiritual treasures, so for eternity, they will be lamenting their own choices. This is vanity!
Those who store up treasures in Heaven will never miss a single thing they left behind on earth, nor will they care about them. Having been rich in what matters to God, they will be filled with the knowledge and love of God Himself! Assuming they have taught this way of life to their children, they will rejoice to leave behind what they labored for. That is, they will leave this blessed inheritance to their children and they will take with them the treasure of merit they earned in this life.
Suddenly, what the world sees as vanity is revealed as pure wisdom. On the other hand, what the world sees today as being most important is revealed as pure vanity. The wisdom of Qoheleth is timeless and those who are truly wise will think of what is above where Christ is all in all, not of what is on earth.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.