In Vain, in VainSunday Readings Lecturas y Comentarios Sunday Readings Bible StudyPrayer of the HoursBurning Question: Does God want you to be rich?"
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 1, 2010 (18C)
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
At the bottom of our hearts, maybe you or I would think of our lives as wasted. What about yours? The beer commercial shows us a bunch of men guzzling beer and acting like teenagers, and tells us, “it doesn’t get any better than this.” Doesn’t it? Do you really agree with this statement?
In vain. The word “vanity” has come to mean proud personal displays, like a peacock. But the original meaning of the word is the one intended in the First Reading: something that is “empty or valueless,” something that is like a vapor. “In vain” comes closer to the meaning (from the Hebrew hebel, which could come from the name Abel, whose sacrifice was rejected).
So when Qoheleth, the presumed author of the First Reading, says, “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity," he means that everything is in vain. It is like a statement of despair. Likely he would be diagnosed today with depression.
So let us wonder whether the First Reading is right. Would you agree that your life is “in vain”?
The reading gives a dark answer.
"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 their occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest."
We agree by saying, “You can’t take it with you when you go.” But we turn around and die trying.
How much of our life is devoted to riches and looking good? Are you one of those who is dedicated to “the bottom line,” to fighting for wealth so you will have something to live for? Qoheleth says you seek these things in vain. You should listen to him.
In the Gospel Jesus says, succinctly, that one’s life does not consist of possessions even though one may be rich. He tells the famous parable:
A very rich man produced a huge harvest one year. He was busy tearing down his storage barns to build still larger ones so he could hoard more into them.
This must be reasonable because we can see the same thing all through the Americanized cultures. Buildings get larger and larger and the greatest compliment that sportscasters can give an athlete is, “He is the greatest in the history of . . .” (just name your sport). Just like the man in Jesus’ story. Just like what Qoheleth calls “vanity.”
The parable’s rich man got a nasty surprise as he was eating, drinking and being merry. God said,
“You fool! This very night your life itself will be demanded of you. All these things you are hoarding, will they save you?”
Could the same thing be said to you or me? Could God say, “You fool” to us? Are we hoarding what we have, even if we are poor? Are we being children of God or children of mammon?
Truth is, we are constructed in such a way that we can open to the source and summit of all love, God. This is in reality the one thing that makes life worth living. If we cannot see over the piles of possessions we have (or wish we had), our honors and gains are totally in vain.
If death were on its way to you this very night, what would you take to God?