At this Sunday’s Mass we have the opportunity to hear from Qoheleth, the author of the book of Ecclesiastes, whose thoughtful considerations of this life begins with the famous line, “Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” The lectionary will then skip to the next chapter where Qoheleth will talk about how labor under the sun only leads to anxiety, misfortune of loss, sorrow and grief – “This also is vanity.”

The best thing that ever happened to the book of Ecclesiastes was our Lord, because Outside of Christ Jesus, it is difficult to make any sense of Qoheleth’s teachings. In the instant case, today’s Gospel reading from Luke 12:13-21 affords us the perfect construct to put ‘the vanities’ in much clearer context.

On this day many, had come to see Jesus. In fact, “so many people were crowding together that they were trampling one another underfoot” (Lk. 11:1). While He was teaching on many things about the spiritual life, there appears out of the crowd a man who asks Jesus to intervene in a legal matter between he and his brother. “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He [Jesus] replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”

Just a couple of weeks ago we encountered Martha who, like this man, found cause to tell Jesus what to do. ““Tell her to help me.” Jesus responded to her complaint and demand by kindly saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Jesus’ response to this man was a little less kind, but definitely more interesting. He says to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” To paraphrase, ‘Friend, who do you think I am?” For, certainly if Parable_Rich_Fool2this man knew that Jesus is God in the flesh then, perhaps, he might not have troubled him with such a picayune issue.

Yet, similar to His dialogue with Martha, this one is also about the issues of self-absorption. While the self-absorption or self-preoccupation lead Mary to be concerned about how others were not busy as she, the self-absorption of this man led him to being concerned about retaining worldly wealth. While the response to Martha was simply “There is need of only one thing”, Jesus will spend a little more time developing the same point for this man through the use of a parable (‘Parable of the Rich Fool’), which ends with the simple phrase, “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” Literally, the translation is ‘Rich for God’.

To be certain, there is a wealth in this life that is not vain. There is a wealth that comes from God that we gain more of not by hoarding it or saving it, but, rather, by giving it away. This wealth comes by the way of being dependent on God, rather than on self or the world. Jesus will continue to build upon that teaching in the verses that immediately follow today’s reading.

The call of today’s Mass is to leave behind the cares and self-preoccupied ambitions of this world to devote all of your heart to the singular service of God. Saint Paul, in today’s second reading, said it this way, “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:9-11)

As you reflect upon the readings at Mass today, here are some questions for you to consider:

  1. What were some of those material things in your youth that you so desperately tried to hold on to? What are those material things that you are cleaving to now, which are not related to your pilgrimage to Heaven?
  2. What are some of those thoughts and ideas and attitudes that you are cleaving to now that are contrary to holiness?
  3. Who would you be without vanities in your life?

PSALMS 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17
You turn man back to dust,
saying, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night.

You make an end of them in their sleep;
the next morning they are like the changing grass,
Which at dawn springs up anew,
but by evening wilts and fades.

Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!

Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
And may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours;
prosper the work of our hands for us!
Prosper the work of our hands!

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Scripture texts in this blog are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.