The needs of the moment often cause us to focus entirely on things of limited value. The necessity of working to obtain food, clothing and shelter, or to make some enterprise successful, can cause us to lose sight of our ultimate goals. We need to find ways to keep these ultimate goals in mind.
The reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes begins with the opening verse of the book, which announces its theme: “All things are vanity!” i.e., all things are empty and worthless. The reading continues with one of the specific examples presented in the second chapter of the book. A person may labor “with wisdom and knowledge and skill” to acquire property. He may work to acquire it with anxiety, sorrow and grief. But at his death, his property goes to another who did nothing to acquire it. This shows the vanity of his efforts to gain wealth; in the end it comes to nothing.
The reading from the Gospel according to Luke says that someone once asked Jesus to tell his brother to share the inheritance with him. This moved Jesus to warn, “Take care to guard against all greed,” and to tell a parable illustrating the danger of greed. A rich man had such an abundant harvest that he had no place to store it. So he decided to tear down his barns and replace them with bigger ones. Then he could say to himself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” But God said to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Like the reading from Ecclesiastes, Jesus’ parable makes the point that death shows the vanity of making wealth our goal. When we die, our wealth goes to others and does us no further good. Instead of focusing on wealth, we need to be “rich in what matters to God.”
Both of these readings warn against focusing on wealth, but they do not say explicitly what we should focus on instead. However, the reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Colossians gives us more information about this. Paul says that Christians have died and risen with Christ. Since Christ has been raised to God’s right hand, Christians are with him there. However, just as Christ’s enthronement in heaven is now hidden except to the eyes of faith, our life with him is also hidden. When Christ comes again, our hidden life with him will be revealed, and we “will appear with him in glory.”
Since that is the case, we need to seek what is above, not what is on earth. The reading goes on to list some earthly things that we should not seek. The list includes “greed that is idolatry,” but also mentions many other improper goals of human life, including the recognition of divisions such as those between “Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free.”
In a section not included in the reading, the letter to the Colossians goes on to list some of the things that are above, that we should seek (see Col 3:12-17). This list includes compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and above all, love. These are things we can gain whose value is not ended by our death. If we die with these virtues, we will be “rich in what matters to God.”
© Terrance Callan