Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 4, 2019)
The book, Ecclesiastes, is something of a misfit in the bible. This is the only appearance of this book in the 3-year cycle of Sunday readings. Today, it deserves our attention.
Quooleth [ko-hehl-ehth] [“one who conducts a school”] was a philosopher, a realist. He was surely not a subscriber to “I’m okay; you’re okay.” He belonged to the tell-‘em-like-it-is school.
His opening words, “all things are vanity is the theme for his book. “Vanity” comes from the root of a word meaning to exhale, to evaporate. Vapor is something transient and insubstantial.
All three of today’s readings converge - a rare occurrence. Paul in writing to the Colossians urges us to move beyond vanity, illusion, and set our hearts on what pertains to higher realms.
Jesus talks about money in today’s Gospel. He sidesteps someone who wanted to put him in the middle of a family squabble. Jesus broadens the picture and addresses the bigger question: “take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Yet, who can deny the powerful influence of greed in our culture? We see it in business executives, political figures, and religious leaders. We see it in stress in the workplace. We see it in megastores that pay low wages to financially strapped employees and provide bargains to the more affluent. We see it in the obscenity of CEO’s paid in a ratio of 500-to-1 over their workers. We see it in the ridiculous salaries and bonuses demanded by athletes and entertainers.
Greed is a spiritual disease that convinces many that what they have is never enough. It is addictive and draws its victims to possess the poison that is killing them.
In an issue of the magazine, Minnesota monthly, the cover story is entitled “big winners.” It is the story of the lottery mega-winners. The article mentions the millionaire circle club, a N.Y.-based support group for winners. Can you imagine? We know that there are support groups for alcohol, drug, and gambling abuse now; there are support groups for wealthy people. Why? You may ask.
• Spouses seriously disagreeing on what to do with the money;
• Relatives and friends continuously making their needs known to them;
• They no longer know who their real friends are.
The stories are so sad that it provokes us to say: “Vanity of vanities.”
Jesus tells the parable about a man who experienced abundance and then acted greedily. How would he manage the increased assets his answer: build bigger barns; keep everything. Wrong! Correct answer: fill the empty barns of the poor that are already built.
The antidote to poisonous greed is gratitude. We need to be grateful for what we have to draw us away from our attention on ourselves and turn our focus to the source of the good things in life that we already have. That strengthens our faith; it reminds us to share with others.
The early Christian community, formed by Jesus, did not follow the worldly economy. “Steward” regards something a person becomes. A stewarding community is a community of serious gratitude and overflowing generosity. A stewarding community - family or church - replaces the worldly notions of power-by-possession with the God-like practice of sharing our abundance.
As we come to know, sooner or later, satisfaction and security in life does not come from wealth, but from the way we relate to each other, the care we have within our family, the loyalty we have in relationships, the work we do in community.
Our parish is a stewarding community. It understands itself as called into being by god and entrusted and empowered with God’s compassion to gratitude, generosity, hospitality, and service
We need to learn not to hug what cannot hug us back.