18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 31, 2016
In our contemporary society success is often measured by wealth and possessions; today's readings provide a peaceful antidote to such thinking. The gospel parable of the foolish rich man makes clear what becomes of those who "store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God" (Luke 12:21): they are suddenly taken away from all they possess by the inexorable pull of death, and are left to bemoan the fact that their hard-earned wealth is given away to others who have not lifted a finger for it.
Jesus' message is straightforward, "Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God" (Luke 12:21), yet it still is worthy of some explanation. He is not only telling us that we should not focus on the accumulation of wealth during our lives-this indicates a lack of faith in God's providence-but he is also teaching us that we should become rich "in what matters to God". The very same message is sounded by St. Paul in the second reading, taken from the letter to the Colossians; there we read "Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly….since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator" (Col 3:5, 9-10).
What we see today is a two-fold movement, away from reliance on material wealth and toward greater trust in God who made us in his image and likeness and renews us in that image through Jesus Christ. This movement is the process that St. Paul refers to as putting on "the new self, which is being renewed…in the image of its creator". All of this does not mean that prosperity is bad; on the contrary it is a blessing, but it must never become our aim in life lest we turn away from the one who is the source of all prosperity and goodness and rely on things of passing value. The Psalmist takes the lesson deeper still, by writing: "You make an end of them in their sleep; the next morning they are like the changing grass, which at dawn springs up anew, but by evening wilts and fades . . . .Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart" (Ps 90:5-6, 12). He thus relates that life itself is short and unpredictable, and that all the things we gather to ourselves will quickly fade away at our death.
The Old Testament sage Qoheleth goes even further and complains that no matter how good or industrious we may be we must eventually leave our property to an heir who has not labored for it, concluding his lament with a phrase that punctuates his writings: "Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!" (Qoh 1:2). Qoheleth's attitude toward work and wealth-and most other subjects-may seem downright cynical, yet it conveys to people of every generation a healthy skepticism about the claims of our culture as to what is truly valuable, and it can help lead us back toward a balanced perspective and a deeper devotion to God who "alone is good" (see Mark 10:18). To avoid the pitfall that stems from the love of wealth we ought to recall the brevity of life and the preciousness of the image of Christ in which we are made and renewed, and then resolve to share our wealth generously with others…that we might be rich "in what matters to God"!