What really matters? This will center the Liturgy of the Word for our Eucharistic
celebration this week. In prayerful imagination, picture the members of your
parish bringing to church every person and every object each person considers
absolutely important and necessary. The parking lot would hold only the first
early arrival. We can pray with the sense we have of the importance of all
God’s gifts and with that, the sense that they all will fail to satisfy our
hearts completely. Are they all “vanity” on the one hand, or our total happiness
on the other.
We can pray for the grace to hold everything as sacred and as such, all things
lead us back to the Giver. We pray with the sense of the shortness of life
and the fragility of life and the sacredness of it all.
While writing this, I keep switching on my radio to listen to a game between
the team from my home town and a little city just south of it. What difference
does it make who wins? It is interrupting my thoughts and prayer tonight
so it must be important, well at least for a little while. Next month, next
week, tomorrow, I won’t care, but tonight it is not vanity at all, but--but
Our First Reading comes from a different kind of book of the Hebrew Scriptures.
It has a name which from the Greek relates to “assembly,” “Preaching,”
or simply “church.” Ecclesiastes has the same root as our English word “Ecclesiastical”
or pertaining to the faithful assembly. Qoheleth is the speaker, but is more
than a person, but a personification of the general thinking or even spirituality
of the people. It is important to understand that this is a developmental
stage in the theology and spirituality within Israel and not a definitive
explanation of their completed thought about life and God.
The word “vanity” here does not have the meaning of showing off
with expensive jewelry and material displays. Rather it has to do with the
brevity of life, love and all things good. The word has to do with the impossibility
of figuring things out; the root meaning of the Hebrew word means “mist.”
Life has sorrows, restless tossings and then life ends. Life is almost too
short to have time to figure things out. Life is not treating everybody equally;
life is unjust. If only we could figure it all out then for sure it would
make sense! This reading is not about having nice things which will grow
out of fashion so why have them at all. It is not about loving someone even
though that relationship will end eventually.
This book of Scripture and our reading has to do with the vanity of holding
on to things as if they were not gifts. If everything leads to ourselves,
then we get what we deserve, the emptiness of ourselves and that would be
vanity at its worst. This depressive spirit has no sense of life’s being
a gift, a blessing. There is no sense that while we labor and sometimes in
drudgery, there is the availability of our being a blessing by God of others.
What is true vanity is laboring, living with ourselves at the center and
calling that “freedom” and real human existence.
The Gospel extends the theme of what life’s meaning could be. Jesus is presented
with a judicial question which if answered would reduce Jesus from his being
a prophet to being a judge. Jesus turns this question, as he often does,
into a prophetic teaching-moment. Luke alone has this event and accompanying
parable which has to do with greed, but even more, about fear versus faith.
The parable is about a man who had a bumper crop from his fields and so he
asks himself what he should do. “Asking himself” is key here. “Himself” is
a reflection of the greedy “little” self which is so timid and whimpering.
This fearful “himself” demands the security for the future against having
anything go wrong. “Himself” wants to, thinks, he will live for ever if only
“himself” has bigger barns.
Jesus pictures God telling this “himself” that he is foolish, not as totally
free as he was thinking to “himself” and his life will be asked of him” this
night.” “Himself” has prepared himself for what matters to
him, but has not prepared for what matters to God. These verses are followed
by the famous section about the “Lilies of the field” and of how much more
importance each of us is than the beauty of flowers and all other created
things. This highlights what God holds as important, us, ourselves and not
the “himself” of the parable.
Now I am sure you want to know if my team has won. Yes, they did and as I
write that victory is fading in importance with each decreasing beat of my
excited heart. It was important, well relatively so. It was fun, but if something
like a game or clothes or bank account becomes my total crop and center,
then my fear of losing them would “himself” me and my fears would replace
fun and my protectiveness would replace faith. What matters to God is our
receiving all things as gifts, celebrating them, enjoying them, sharing them,
because they are gifts and not to be stored up in some barn or bank so as
to make sure we do not have to rely on anybody else, especially God. What
matters to God is matter which in its various forms are sacraments to be
received and enjoyed with others in a barnless community of family, friends
“You gave us bread from heaven, Lord: a sweet-tasting
bread that was very good to eat.” Wisdom 16, 20