Today's readings nudge us to adjust our focus. They present some important questions and invite us to answer them honestly. How attached are we to the things of this world? Where do we keep our treasures? Do we understand that our time on earth is limited? Is Christ the center of our lives?
First Reading – Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
The author of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth, often seems like a gloomy sort of fellow with a cynical outlook on life, but he also makes some good points. In today's reading, he exclaims, “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” The Hebrew word for vanity is hăbêl. Other possible translations include breath, vapor, emptiness, futility, uselessness, nothingness, worthlessness, meaninglessness, and delusion. Compared to the things of God, the things of this earth are all of that...mere vanity.
Qoheleth continues, reminding us that all the material things we have worked so hard for will eventually belong to someone else. We will have toiled and worried for nothing if we put all our focus on the things of this world. They will one day be lost to us forever.
In the same vein, the psalm teaches us that we must “number our days aright.” We are, after all, mere dust, and to dust we will one day return. We pass away as quickly as grass when we consider God's point of view. Our time on earth is short, and we must use it rightly, to gain “wisdom of heart” and true joy.
Second Reading – Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
After hearing so much about how vain and fleeting our earthly lives are, we might be feeling a little depressed by this point. St. Paul has the cure. “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,” he says, “where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” We need to focus on Christ, not on our earthly lives or material things.
St. Paul continues, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with Him in glory.” At our Baptism, we died with Christ. We received a share in His saving sacrifice. If we remain in a state of grace, we are in God, and God is in us. This is the focus of our lives, Christ in glory and God in us.
We must, therefore, act accordingly. “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry,” Paul orders. “Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices...” We are new creatures in Christ, and Christ ought to be our “all in all.”
Gospel – Luke 12:13-21
In today's Gospel, a member of the crowd approaches Jesus and asks Him for a favor: “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Jesus probably sighs a little bit at this request, which is so focused on earthly things, but He turns the incident into a teaching moment. “Friend,” He replies, “who appointed Me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then He speaks to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Material things are not the be-all-end-all of life. There is so much more.
Jesus continues with a parable. A rich man's lands produce a “bountiful harvest.” He is pleased, of course, but he soon discovers that his barns will not hold his latest crop. He makes a plan; he will tear down his old barns and build bigger ones to hold all his wonderful possessions. Satisfied, he says to himself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” But his enjoyment is short lived. That very night, God calls to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” His excellent harvest and many possessions no longer mean anything at all. They will pass on to someone else, and the rich man will face God empty-handed.
“Thus will it be,” Jesus concludes, “for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” How do we become rich in what matters to God? We must become rich in love. We must put the things of this earth in their proper place and honestly answer the questions posed by today's readings. We must put Christ at the very center of our lives. Then we will have the right kind of treasure, the kind stored up for us in Heaven.