EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2019)
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Psalms 90:3-6, 12-14, 17
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Surely, everyone knows a family or two that has been torn apart by the reading of a will. Indeed, it makes no difference how comfortable one might be, or how much need there truly is, when it comes to the distribution of one’s earthly goods, being fair and equitable has nothing to do with it. Often, it’s all just a matter of how much one gets. The same can be said in situations where there is a remarriage, even one acknowledged to be healthy and best for all parties – if the non-blood relative gets more than what the children of the “first” marriage think they deserve, open warfare and unpleasantness can occur.
It was one of two brothers in today’s gospel from Luke who boldly thought Jesus would settle matters of his inheritance by just telling his errant brother “to share the inheritance with” him. But as Jesus often does in the gospels, he sorely disappoints the brother by giving him more than he wanted, a reminder “to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
The parable that Jesus tells his followers is not meant to rail against any and all forms of wealth. Rather, it is the futility of finding personal fulfillment in the mere collection of worldly goods at which Jesus takes aim. In the parable, the man is stated to be “rich,” and there is nothing inherently wrong about that, but enjoying his “bountiful harvest” was not enough for him. He seems to obsess about tearing down his barns and building bigger ones, where he can store more and more grain. But for what purpose? If he had shared some of his grain there might not be the need to build bigger barns, but his old barns wouldn’t exactly impress his neighbors, and so much of possessing anything, is letting others know just how much you possess. Did the rich man ever have the time to be truly happy, or was he too obsessed with gathering more to “rest, eat, drink, and be merry”? With the rich man’s death his obsession ended, and as the parable points out, to whom will all his things belong? If there were children, we could conclude that, like the brother at the beginning of the gospel, they are left behind only to to be fought over.
Our first reading from Ecclesiastes makes it clear “that all things are vanity,” and Paul’s letter to the Colossians reminds us that we should be thinking about the things “above,” not what is “earthly.” The futility of the rich man’s pursuit of earthy things, is succinctly stated by Jesus at the end of the gospel when He states, “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” What matters to God is not the size of our bank account or holdings, the make of our car, the size of our yacht, or the worth of our home. We should not be confused into thinking that greed is limited to things of wealth, for people can be greedy for power, influence, social connections, or the empty adulation of others. None of that “matters to God.”
If we are blessed with goods or good fortune, those blessings are meant to lead us to the source of all blessings. God alone is the source and purpose of life, and our success can be measured, not in worldly goods, but only by the degree that we have conformed our lives to the God who truly motivates us. The purpose of life is to become like Christ, and true wealth consists of the everyday decisions that make us resemble Him. When our time for an accounting of our lives arrives, we will be measured by what we hope are countless acts of forgiveness, innumerable acts of generosity, sharing, and kindness, and hundreds of deeds that confer healing, deliverance, peace, and joy. Those need to be where our treasure truly lies, and we should never be distracted by the things of this world.
The great Carmelite mystic and doctor of the Church, St. Theresa of Avila, put what is most important into very few words. Found in her handwriting, on a card in her prayer book, was this advice:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
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