Sunday, 31 July 2016
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What does a man gain for all his toil under the sun?” (Eccles).
Ecclesiastes is one of my favourite books of the Bible, because it is a remedy to many mistaken views of what it means of be a Christian.
Often, the impression is given that being a Christian means having your brain extracted and wandering with an unexplained grin. ‘Jesus wants you for a sunbeam’. You MUST be happy if Jesus loves you!
In contrast, the book of Ecclesiastes (also known as Qoheleth, or the book of ‘The Preacher’, a book that is part of every Christian’s Bible) faces the harder realities of life. It’s a book that was written by someone having a really BAD day. It progressively looks at every aspect of human existence, and says that it is ALL meaningless, all pointless, ‘all is vanity, and a chasing after the wind’.
Pleasure –is not enough
Youth and beauty –seem nice, but they fade
Money –brings as many difficulties as reassurances, and can all be lost
Whatever a man builds, ultimately turns to dust.
Or, as Jesus said to the rich man in the parable, when you die, ‘whose will your money be then!’
Qoheleth, in the midst of his rantings, does not understand, but he concludes at least with a certain truth: at the end, what is left? To ‘fear God and keep the commandments’.
-sometimes that IS all we can figure out, and it is wise (if cheerless) advice.
The early Fathers of the Church looked at the book of Qoheleth as an example of what life is like without Christ: meaningless, vanity.
The problem Qoheleth poses is this: What does a man gain for all his toil?
The answer is laid out in Colossians, as we heard in our second reading, “You must look to the things of Heaven, where Christ is” (Col 3:1)
And, as our Gospel text recorded, Christ’s parable told us of the pointlessness of trying to ‘store up treasure’ in this world, but He also told us of another treasure: to be “rich in the sight of God” (Lk 12:21).
If a man toils for THESE riches, he will never lose them, they cannot be corrupted.
Life has meaning in Christ because He is the SOURCE of life, the pattern and purpose of it. The world was made for Him.
It is only if we see the divinity of Christ that all life’s toil can have meaning –meaning because it is united to Him.
WORK –He created it, He gave it as one of the first gifts to Adam and Eve in the Eden. He gave it dignity by sharing it as a carpenter in Nazareth.
If we work WITH Christ and FOR Him, offering our work to Him, then it have a value and reward that last forever. The same work we must do for earthly lords we can transform to a higher end by offering it to Him.
AGE, PAIN, and DISCOMFORT –these were not part of God’s original plan for us.
They are with us because of the effects of Original Sin. But because of the Incarnation and the Cross, they are things that point to Christ. As with work, we can offer it to Him, with His strength, as a prayer for ourselves or for others.
JOY too –you don’t have to have a permanent brain-dead grin on your face,
but joy is part of what God wills for us, it is a fruit of love, and a fruit of the love we can have for the Lord –if we do all things with Him and for Him.
‘Vanity of vanity, all is vanity’ –so it can seem, without Christ
‘What does a man gain for all his toil under the sun?”
If he works for himself –little, and nothing when he dies
If he works for his neighbour and family? Hopefully, love
If he works for God, which includes our duty to work for neighbour and family but elevates it to a higher end,
He gains a reward that will never end