Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
- Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
- Luke 12:13-21
Today’s first reading for the eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – C Cycle, begins with the ever-popular refrain from the second verse of the opening of the book of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity.” Ecclesiastes is a book of the Bible that has the propensity to cause great amounts of vexation for hedonists; those who are only interested in pursuing the pleasures of self-indulgence. One particular vanity says Qoheleth, the preacher, is toiling arduously in the labor fields because ultimately all the work you have done is, in the end, not for yourself – inevitably that man must leave all the hard work he has done under the sun into the hands of another who did nothing. What does a man gain by planting what another man will harvest? “For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest. This also is vanity.” It’s good to know that thousands of years go humans still hated having to dream about their job. All that matters according to Qoheleth is that we all “Fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13).
In the second reading, Saint Paul is writing to the Church at Colossae. The idea that Paul is beating back in this whole letter is Gnosticism, which was a teaching spreading around Rome and was positing that Christ Jesus was just a superior man, an eon – a being that was an intermediate between God the Spirit and matter. Today’s reading from 3:1-5 and 9-11, picks up this same call against hedonism, saying, “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.”
Paul would agree with Qoheleth in saying that our duty is to fear God and keep His commandments, but he would go a step further to explain the reason why we should go beyond just our mere obligation to the law, rather, it’s because by dying to Christ in Baptism, we are no longer who we were. As we were raised with Christ who is above, who is Heavenly, we must now orient all of our thoughts and our actions to where Christ sits. “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” That is what truly matters according to the Apostle.
In the Gospel of Luke this Sunday, Jesus’ answers someone in the crowd who wants Him to resolve a dispute about inheritance. Jesus says to the man, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator.” Of course, Jesus is our judge and arbitrator, but the distinction He is making here is that he’s not interested in disputes over earthly possessions and those things that truly do not belong to us anyway. The only things that we take with us after death are either love or hate. Those are the things that Jesus is interested in judging and arbitrating. Jesus then addresses the crowd with a parable that sounds exactly like the example of a pointless life that Qoheleth labeled as vanity.
Indeed, Jesus’ parable was about a rich man who was pleased to build a bigger storehouse for all of his possessions. “But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
Together, these readings at the Holy Mass this Sunday point to a central hope of the liturgy. That is, by calling and teaching us how to participate in the Divine nature, the liturgy forming us how to structure our engagement in the world. In this way, the liturgy is answering for us that ever vexing human deliberation and equation over how important should this or that earthly concern be to me, by pointing us to all that truly matters; that is, our life in Christ.
It is difficult in this life to always remember that we are not who we were; that we were not created solely for this world; that the world has concerns that truly do not belong to us, but is always attempting to convince us that its concerns should matter to us. Christians of every age have struggled with various levels of hedonism and anxiety. How much is too much? How much is being greedy? How much should I truly care about politics? How much should I care about my job? How much should let my children’s bad decisions stress me out? How much should I care about how I look? How much time should I spend on the internet? So and on so forth, so much math and questions about how to be a Christian in the world, according to the dictates of ‘how much’.
What the liturgy teaches us is that quantitative questions like these are stupid and very earthly, because there is nothing about God that can be measured. Our life in Christ is not a matter of quantity, but, rather quality. We know this because the liturgy itself cannot be measured in quantity. We in the West would like to measure it that way, by making sure the Mass always ends in an hour, but that is not reality. For, when the liturgy begins, we instantly enter a space that belongs to the timeless and eternal now of God. Who can quantify eternity; and who has ever tried to quantify love is a fool because God is love. Indeed, through the Holy Eucharist, the liturgy is teaching us that love is all about quality, not quantity because no matter if you receive just a crumb or just a drop of the Body and Blood of Jesus, you have received an equal measure to the person who had eaten a whole host or who guzzled the whole chalice.
Rather, as the readings are suggesting to us today, quantitative concerns always lead to sin through hedonism and greed. Worrying about how much of this or that is not the type of questions that a Christian concerns themselves with, no more than Jesus worried about how much bread or fish was in the basket, or how much sin should He forgive; or how much of His life that He should sacrifice. No, that is not what life in Christ is about; quantity is not what matters, and it is not what the liturgy is pointing us to. Our life in Christ is not measured by the quantity, but, rather, by quality, because love is immune to qualitative measurements of this world.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us on how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.