THE FUTILITY OF LIFE AND THE DANGER OF HOARDING
HOMILY FOR EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C. Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2;2:21-23; Psalm 90; Colossians 3:1-5.9-11 and Luke 12:13-21
Today’s liturgy reawakens in us the reality of death, an inevitable end and a great equalizer. A reminder that we are in a transitory world and should not be attached to our possessions but have our eyes fixed on heaven.
The first reading from Ecclesiastes strikes a reality that most of us often neglect, which will eventually come. Ecclesiastes is known in Hebrew Scriptures as Qoheleth or Koheleth (meaning a person qualified to address public assembly: that is, the preacher). And the first verse ascribes the authorship to Qoheleth/the preacher, “the son of David,” leading many to presume it is Solomon, but appears to have been written later than Solomon’s time.
The preacher began this book with a conclusion saying, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecc. 1:2). Further he said, “Sometimes a man who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by a man who did not toil for it” (1:21). The idea that Solomon might leave all his work and material wealth to a fool seemed to trouble him. Solomon the wisest of all men made the worst use of his wisdom. He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines and yet left but one son behind him, to possess his estate and his throne, and that one was the silliest of fools. This concern was well founded, because after Solomon’s death, Rehoboam turned out to be a fool in many ways (1Kg 14:21-31). In view of this, the preacher speaks of the meaninglessness and the absurdity of life. He thoroughly examined the emptiness and futility of life lived without eternity before coming to the conclusion of the necessity of eternity. He looked at life all around and judges it to be vanity. He calls us to remember God in all we do as he reminds us of the ultimate end to all created things.
St. Paul in the second reading speaks of vanity when he said, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-2). Many Christians have become so attached to the things of this world that we hardly reflect about heaven anymore. He also urges us to put to death whatever is evil in us with an inclusion of covetousness as a way to transform our lives fitting for Christ.
In the gospel, Christ responded to one of the multitudes to “take heed and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions” (Lk. 12:15). The man who brought the grievance has focused his eyes closed-up on possessions, so that he sees nothing else. Christ calls him to pull back so the whole of life comes into view, an exercise that puts possessions in perspective. Possessions are still in the picture, but look smaller when seen against the backdrop of the rest of life.
Christ turns the discussion from this man’s inheritance to his real need, that is, defense against greed and opportunity to become ‘rich towards God’ (v.21). He uses the request of this man as opportunity to teach us of the danger of greed. Being covetous is to have a strong desire for material possessions or finding fulfillment, meaning and purpose in things, instead of in God. Christ has earlier asked, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Lk. 9:25). Now, Christ taught the crowds with the parable of the rich fool acquiring and hoarding crops, who said to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store up my crops?’ He talks with nobody but himself. He so inwardly focused that he requires no counsel. He certainly has not asked God for guidance.
Most of us would be glad to be in this position, having more money than we know what to do with. This man certainly seems glad. However, money is all that he has. He has no sense of community. He has no inclination to help the poor or to donate to worthwhile charities. He is rich in money and poor in everything else. He was so concerned with himself that his use of language in this short parable was more of first-person pronoun (I and my). In his short conversation with himself, he uses the word “I” six times and the word “my” five times. He gives no thought to his bonus of his hired hands or a service project for his community. He offers no word of thanksgiving to God for this tremendous harvest. Everything is “I” and “my.” Like Rehoboam, the successor of Solomon, God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose would they be?”
People who love possessions, guard them jealously. They maintain tight controls, erect barriers and prevent others from gaining access. The thought of someone squandering their wealth will be painful indeed. When they die, their fortunes are often spent in ways they never envisaged nor envisioned and would never have approved. Eventually, moth and rust corrupt even the most prized possessions. This could be the plight of Solomon in the Wisdom literature of the first reading.
The problem is not the man’s wealth but his selfish hoarding. Poverty does not render one immune of selfishness. The problem is not wealth but selfishness. Some people share unselfishly with people in need, but others hoard a piece of bread. It is entirely possible that someone might drive a Porsche and be generous towards others while another person might drive micra or even bicycle and selfishly hoard the little he/she has. When we have our minds and hearts fixed on heaven, we will understand the concept of vanity and know better how to love and share. May God’s grace spur us on to be more other-centered, teaching us to love more and share the goods God has endowed us with.
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ