Preparing for Sunday anticipating this day.Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
On my computer keyboard, there is a little button that, when suppressed, “refreshes the screen.” The liturgical readings are meant to do the same. Today’s readings refresh the screens of our minds and hearts about the role of possessions in the lives of Jesus’ followers. Is it wrong to possess things, or for them to possess us?
The First Reading is from one of the books from the Wisdom Literature within the Hebrew Scriptures. The speaker’s name is not Qoheleth, but rather the word means “speaker” or “preacher” of the assembly. Wisdom Literature focuses on the theme of recalling or being attentive to the reality that all creation is from God and is meant to lead us back to God.
“Vanity” here is not exactly the same as we usually think of it. Here it is meant to be something like illusion or mist. In this reading illusion easily leads to delusion and clouds up our screens as to what is and what is not important
In our reading today we hear how worrying about keeping and being possessed by the fretting about property is fruitless, because all is a gift and all avails us nothing when the final returns are in.
The Gospel has two little stories about greed and accumulations. Jesus is asked to prevail on a person’s brother to share the inheritance. Jesus turns this into a preaching moment as He reminds the crowd not to be greedy, "One’s life does not consist of possessions.” He then tells them a dramatic parable.
Riches are a blessing only when they are shared as blessings and a deadly violation when they are stored up for personal identity or security. Property comes from the word meaning “ownership.” Wisdom refreshes our screens and Jesus enlivens our imaginations by telling us again that death is the final gift or blessing and all we can take with us are the things we shared. Keeping things to ourselves is not good for us when it comes to our emotions and our gifts. When we keep things for ourselves, then that is what we get, ourselves, and that is a disgrace.
Our human identities are so fragile and who we are can be ambiguous at times. To solve this puzzle we are easily tempted to accumulate ourselves. Rather than receiving our truest self, we spend time achieving an outer-self we can point to and have others appreciate. Are we then all that we have and that is all that we are?
The deeper struggle which today’s readings invite us to enter centers around the tension between dependence and independence. If we have a dependent relationship with things to give us our identity and security then we take a stance of independence from the Giver. If we possess things strictly as gifts then we grow increasingly dependent upon the Giver and more and more free from the necessity of having, keeping and worrying.
As often happens, having our screens refreshed and made more clear does not always help in living what we read. Identity, security, freedom from and freedom for, all these form the context for either vanity or sanctity. The human condition does not allow us to surrender easily to the care and benevolence of God. Keeping our screens refreshed will keep us from experiencing the mist as if it were real. Wisdom is knowing what is, whence it comes and whither it takes us.
“You gave us bread from heaven, Lord, a sweet-tasting bread that was very good to eat.” Wisdom 16:20
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