Entire civilizations are buried in the dust — nothing is permanent in our world. CNS photo/Mariana Bazo, Reuters

God's Word on Sunday: Earthly concerns don’t come before God

  • July 25, 2022

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) July 31 (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Psalm 90; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21)

The author of Ecclesiastes does not seem like the sort of person one would want to invite to dinner or to a party. His voice is wearied, passionless and a bit cynical. Nothing seems to interest or excite him.

In fact, there was some debate among rabbis over whether this work should be included in the canon of Scripture, especially since God does not figure prominently in it. But it was included, and it has been the source of much thoughtful commentary over the centuries.

The word that we unfortunately translate as “vanity” — hebel — means vapour, mist or smoke. Saying that all is utter vanity means that we live a life of illusion. We invest so much time and energy in things that are fleeting and empty of true meaning. Our lives are all too short and when we leave this Earth, we take nothing with us except what we have learned spiritually. Archaeologists uncover fabulous treasures no longer of any use to their owners, as well as broken statues of rulers who once made nations tremble. Entire civilizations lie buried in the dust, existing only in history books. Nothing is permanent; everything dies or passes away.

At the end of his weary rant, the author arrives at his solution, and it’s not a bad one. Live in the present moment, enjoying each day as a gift. Practise moderation; do not cling to things or to the past. Friends and family, health and happiness matter far more than wealth, honour or power. We need to take the long view, focusing on what matters eternally. This does not mean turning our backs on the needs of the world or disparaging human achievements. We are merely encouraged not to let earthly things be our gods or dictate our lives. Do not give earthly things or concerns more energy and passion than they merit.

Colossians seems to be on the same page. The readers are exhorted to set their minds and hearts on things that are above. Believers presumably have died to earthly things and negative behaviour through the death and resurrection of baptism. They are encouraged to continue this process as they are renewed by the things that are above. God is at work, forming new people. All of the earthly labels that separated people — ethnic, social and religious labels — are no longer valid. They belong to the old eon that has passed away. We need to welcome the new world that is being created in our midst.

All of these spiritual lessons are summed up perfectly in the gospel reading. When an agitated man asked Jesus to intervene in an inheritance dispute with his family, Jesus refused. He asked the man to reconsider his priorities and not waste a lot of energy with anger and desire for money. He warned them — and us — that money and possessions should not define our lives.

As always, Jesus followed with a parable. A man was blessed with fruitful harvests. Being energetic and industrious, he built bigger and bigger barns to store his bumper crops. There is nothing wrong with this, except that bigger, better and more were his only concerns. He was quite content with himself and was firmly convinced that he could now live the good life and not have any worries.

The warning from God came like a thunderclap: You fool! That very night would be his last on Earth, as his life was being demanded of him. All his wealth and possessions would go to others, and he would not be able to enjoy any of it. His hard work and frantic amassing of wealth were for naught.

This is not a blanket condemnation of wealth or hard work. But Jesus insisted we also have to be rich towards God. Our lives must be balanced, giving ample time and energy to our spiritual growth and relationship with God, as well as compassionate service to others.