18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Our Lord must have been familiar with today's first reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes. "Vanity of vanities...All is vanity." The words of the ancient author sound very similar to words our Lord would use centuries later.
"For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart
with which he has labored under the sun?...even at night his mind is not at rest."
Even the illustration of the man who labored so hard and well but who must eventually leave all his property behind at death is very similar to the one our Lord uses in today's gospel.
Before we get to the gospel we should realize that in St. Luke's previous chapter, our Lord has really let the Pharisees and the Lawyers have it because of their hypocrisy. He especially reproached them for their greed and selfishness. While they feather their own nests, they load others down with burdens and will not lift a finger to help. The Pharisees and the Lawyers bitterly resent the insulting words of Jesus and a heated argument breaks out. Sure enough a crowd gathers and it is at this point that our gospel reading begins.
Someone in the crowd asks his advice about an inheritance. A Rabbi was often asked to settle problems like this one. Jesus declines to offer advice on this particular question but takes the opportunity to warn the crowd. Now whenever we hear a crowd mentioned in the gospels, we can always assume that we are in it and that Jesus is speaking directly to us. He says,
Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one's life does not consist of possessions.
Jesus then tells the parable of the rich man who is doing so well and making all kinds of plans for growing and expanding his business. The man thinks that once he reaches all his business goals that he will then be able to "rest, eat, drink, and be merry."
Little does he know that none of his plans will come to fruition.
You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you,
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?
What would we do if we knew that tonight would be our last night on earth? I know that it's morbid to think like this and it certainly is impossible and un-Christian to begin every day thinking that it will be our last. We're supposed to get up every day with joy in our hearts, thankful for all the good things that the Lord has given us. Indeed, we're supposed to offer each day to the Lord hoping that it will be a productive one for ourselves and our loved ones.
Nevertheless, once a year when we hear the words, "Vanity of vanities...all things are vanity," it might not be a bad thing to consider what we might do if we knew this day might be our last. Who would we want to see? What would we say to them? What would we want to do that we have put off? Where would we like to go? What possessions or things would we want to use or enjoy for the last time? What book would we want to read? What song would we want to hear?
Maybe if we thought like this once a year we might appreciate the message in today's readings a little better. St. Paul tells the Colossians and us that if we have accepted Christ there is no longer any room in our life for idols. Now an idol is a false god, a mere human invention. It doesn't have to be a statue or image--it just has to be something that we have let enslave us in one way or another. Paul has a whole list of these things that are hurting us as well as those we love. He says,
Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly;
immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry...
all the anger and quick temper,
the malice, the insults, the foul language.
Stop lying to one another.
Our Lord was critical of the leaders of His time because of their greed and hypocrisy. He and St. Paul might as well have been speaking of our politicians today. Greed, malice, foul language, and lying are part and parcel of politics today. Is it any wonder that our politics are so divisive? If our leaders act the way they do, they are only reflecting what is going on in our society today. Immorality, greed, anger, and lying have become virtues rather than vices. Just look at the way these behaviors are glorified on television.
The readings today are saying that if we reflect on what is really important in life, we can bring peace and harmony into our lives, our families, our cities and our country. We've tried the old way and it doesn't work. What about a world where we recognize that because we all have the same heavenly Father, we are all brothers and sisters. Where,
there is not Greek and Jew,
circumcision and uncircumcision,
barbarian, Scythian, slave, free;
but Christ is all and in all.
Reading 1. Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2; 2-23
Reading II. Colossians 3: 1-5, 9-11
Gospel. Luke 12: 13-21 (this night your life will be demanded).