Our Liturgy today seems to present us with a rather gloomy picture of the human situation. It brings out forcefully the issue of self-dependence and condemns it. Holy Mother, the Church draws our attention to the fact we do not own our lives; God does. He is the only one who owns the key unlock our future. The psalmist puts it beautifully what the Church desires for her members when he says “Lord make us know the shortness of our lives so that we may gain a wisdom of heart.” Sir Edwyn Hoskyns used to say that Ecclesiastes was the most Christian book in the Old Testament. What he meant was that Ecclesiastes is a ruthless exposure of what the human life is apart from God and if taken really seriously, prepares the way for a hearing of the Gospel of Christ. What therefore “Vanity of Vanities” means is that all of human life is ultimately futile and meaningless if viewed in itself, apart from God. Most of our translations use the word ‘Vanity’, but that word has the meaning today of excessive self-love, especially of our physical appearance. The original word used in Hebrew “hebel” is ‘something that is transitory or passing, and has no substance’, and so the real sense of this passage is that the transitory things of the world are not to be chased after, but only the thing that lasts – the eternal God – is worth chasing after. The readings for today’s Liturgy bring out four issues for our consideration.
To begin with, one of the issues is the role of poverty in the life of the Christian. The point of today’s parable is that man is a fool who thinks he can secure his life by amassing worldly possessions. Jesus does not say that such goods are bad; nor does he say that man in question has lost his eternal soul because of his concern to increase his wealth: he merely points out the stupidity of planning one’s life without reckoning with what God has in store for us. This passage reiterates Luke 9:25 “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his own soul?”
Secondly, do we try to plan our lives without God? We who live in an era of affluence, counselors, contraceptives, scientific advancement (Humanism) and the like have the tendency to think that the human being is the centre of the world. Our reason for being on earth is for God and God only. Our basic Catechesis teaches us that God created us to know him; to love him and to serve Him. The folly of the man presented to us by our Lord in today’s parable is that he thought he could plan without God. Little did he realize that that very night, while he was making grand plans for the future, God was going to call him from this life to the next life where he will have to give an account of his stewardship. How many of us try to do the same thing? The life that we have is not our own; it has been loaned to us by God for a short period of time. “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God” (Luke 12:21).
Thirdly, we are called upon to reject the works of darkness. In this age of permissiveness, we should listen attentively to Paul when he tells us, “Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). This is as true now as it was then. We are to reject the works of darkness and be light to the world through the shining example of our Christian love.
Finally, the readings brings to the fore the fact that Christians should not place their hope in worldly possessions. A faithful Christian needs them in order to lead a full human life, in order to secure his own personal freedom, in order to provide for his family. But the Old Testament and the New Testament tell us over and over again that we are not to place our security and happiness in these things because they are all passing away. Our confidence is in the name of the Lord who is immovable as Mount Zion, who is more firm than Gibraltar.
Jesus invites us to ponder what the true riches are in human life. In the story Jesus tells, the man whose barn is bursting with an abundant harvest, plans on building bigger barns. He believes he's totally self-sufficient with all that stored-up wealth. The man has virtually shut out everyone else from his life and his thoughts for he says “This is what I will do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:18-19).
Jesus teaches that those who rely solely on material goods, and allow them to control their existence to the point of greed and possessiveness are storing up treasures that will not last. It's being "rich in what matters to God" that is true wealth in the Kingdom. Examine your heart this Sunday. Have you focused on material goods, treasures that will not last? Or have you allowed God to fill you with love—with wealth of the "richest kind?"
St. Augustine puts it succinctly when he says “Lord, you created us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” We are more dignified than material possessions because we have been created in the image and likeness of God. “Therefore, I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they (Matthew 6:25-26)?