18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21.
AIM: To move the hearers to deeper conversion.
AWhat profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored ...? All his days sorrow and grief ... even at night his mind is not at rest. This also is vanity.@ Is that good news? Hardly. The book from which those words in our first reading are taken, Ecclesiastes, has as its constantly repeated refrain the words: AVanity of vanities! All things are vanity!@ Ecclesiastes has been called the most cynical book in the Bible. It contains the bad news that we need to hear to prepare us for the good news brought to us by Jesus Christ.
The bad news is that life is indeed empty B Avanity,@ as Ecclesiastes calls it B if we organize our lives apart from God. The rich fool in the gospel did that. He made the mistake, which is always fatal, of assuming that possessions and money can guarantee security and happiness. Organizing his life without reference to God, he assumes that his destiny is entirely in his own hands. He never realized that life is not a possession. It is a trust. The man is shocked to discover, just when he thinks he has achieved total security, that life is God=s to give, and God=s to take away. Then, when it is too late, he discovers that the bad news of Ecclesiastes is true. Life lived without reference to God is nothing but sorrow and grief, emptiness and vanity. Jesus= comment is simple and direct: AThus it will be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.@
Being Arich in what matters to God@ means realizing that there is something more important than getting B and that is giving. The World War II British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill B not an especially religious man B said once: AWe make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.@ Being Arich in what matters to God@ means remembering that the things we think we own are not absolute possessions. They are gifts that have been entrusted to us for a limited time. Few of us have a century. One day we shall have to give an account of how we have administered this trust. Being Arich in the sight of God@ also means, therefore, organizing our lives not around ourselves, but around the One to whom shall one day have to give our accounting for all he has entrusted to us B and that is God.
The rich fool in Jesus= story did the opposite. He organized his life around his own desires and pleasures. Is there someone here who has done that? Probably not. Your presence here at Sunday Mass shows that God does have a place in your life. The question Jesus= story poses for most of us, therefore, is not: ADoes God have a place in my life?@ The question for us is: AWhat place does God have in my life? Is he at the center? Or have I pushed God out toward the fringe of my life?@
Catholics who push God out to the fringe of their lives prefer a distant relationship with the Lord. Choosing always to come late to Mass and to hurry away early, they treat God in a way they would be ashamed to treat someone they truly loved, or whose good opinion they valued. If they come to confession at all, the only sin they can think of is how many times they missed Mass. They overlook other serious sins: meanness to those with whom they live and work; hard-heartedness to people who need their help or sympathy; gossip and tale-bearing that tear people down and destroy their good names; spending lavishly on themselves and then tossing God a cheap tip from the loose change that is left over B while complaining that church and charities are unrealistic in their financial demands, and that all we ever hear about in church is money. For such Catholics religion is really a kind of heavenly life insurance policy on which they grudgingly pay premiums, on the principle that you never know when you might need it B and it=s too dangerous to be without it. If your religion is anything like that, you have discovered long since that it brings you no joy.
Let me tell you why. A God who is on the fringe of life will always be a threat to you. He will always be trying to move into the center. If you want your religion to be a source of joy rather than of sadness, something that lifts you up instead of weighing you down, then you must put God at the center of your life.
Paul writes about such a God-centered life in our second reading. Addressing adult converts, he says that when they emerged from the waters of Baptism, AYou were raised with Christ.@ The new life given to us in Baptism is meant to be centered not on ourselves but on God. It gives first place not to getting, but to giving. That means, Paul says, that we must Aseek what is above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not what is on earth.@
More than one person here in this church today knows from personal experience what Paul is talking about in that second reading. God can never be a threat to you. He will never try to encroach on a part of your life which you have reserved yourself. Because there are no fenced off corners in your life, where God is not allowed. For you God is at the center, not on the fringe.
People who put God at the center of their lives have a religion not of law, but of love: a faith that is a source of joy in good times, and of strength in times of suffering and trial. Paul writes of such people: AYou have died@ B died, he means, to self-centeredness B Aand your life is hidden with Christ in God.@ Such people live their lives not merely with reference to God. They live their lives for God. As a consequence they experience what Paul calls in his letter to the Philippians Athe peace of God that passes all understanding,@ as (4:7).
Do you want that peace? Do you want a faith that fills you with joy? Which of us does not? To have that peace and joy you must do just one thing. You must allow God to move from the fringe of your life to the center. When you do that, then some other words of Paul from our second reading come true for you: AWhen Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.@