A reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes
(Chapter 1:2; 2:21-23)
This is a reading of uncertain origin. Some biblical scholars believe it was written about 300 years before the birth of Jesus, others say much earlier. “Qoheleth” is not a personal name but rather a title meaning teacher or preacher—a very gloomy and pessimistic one: “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity. … For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest.” It’s a stark message that Jesus, with more context, repeats in the gospel passage for today.
(Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17)
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Do you know someone who has been so hurt, so disappointed, so misjudged, so betrayed, that he or she has a hardened heart? Maybe it was a child, a spouse, a friend, or a co-worker, but someone caused that person to harden his or her heart so as not to be hurt again. Could the offer of a kind word or a kind ear from you be the first step in the long healing process?
A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians
(Chapter 3:1-5; 9-11)
Paul wants to contrast this earthly life with the new life of glory with Christ: “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Stop lying to one another, 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.”
You and I have “put on the new self,” the self of grace, God’s very Spirit living within us. We have a power in us that is a pure gift, but, of course, it is truly a gift that we did not earn but that was given to us freely by God. We need to believe in the gift, accept the gift, and share the gift with all, especially those in need. It is not that we have the answer or solution to everything but rather that we share our gift-filled presence. We may feel we have nothing to say to someone in sadness, loss, or conflict. It is our loving presence that in itself will share the gift of the Spirit, the gift of healing. It is not magical, and it is not from us but rather from the Spirit living within us.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
This is a challenging parable that Jesus told about greed. In ancient times in Israel, the oldest son received the major part of the family inheritance. That seems to be part of this story in which a man says to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Jesus avoids getting involved, but he makes a powerful point as he says to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Then he tells the people a parable of “a rich farmer whose land produced a bountiful harvest.” This farmer has no space to store all his grain, so he decides to build bigger barns. Then he congratulates himself: “You have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat drink and be merry.”
Then God said to the farmer, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” and Jesus adds, “Thus wall it be for those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
In our day, for many people, possessions mean more than basic security. They mean power and a kind of pseudo-contentment: bigger stuff and more stuff, more cars, boats, houses, the latest social media, and the best clothes and restaurants. All this “stuff” can easily choke out the Spirit and bring the kind of false security that trapped the rich man in this parable.
But what about we who are not super rich? Can we also get caught up in the material rat race that can steal away the true joy in our relationships, our creativity, and the beauties of nature? Yes, Jesus is not talking about ambition and wealth in themselves; he is talking about priorities and balance. Today, he keeps us, too, on track.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayers was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.