Commentary, July 31, 2022, Pentecost 8

I. Theme – Finding True Riches to Enjoy a Happy Life 

“St. Lawrence Delivering the Riches of the Church” –  Master of the Osservanza (1440)

The lectionary readings are here or individually: 

First Reading – Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Psalm – Psalm 49:1-11
Epistle – Colossians 3:1-11
Gospel – Luke 12:13-21 

Today’s readings encourage us to discover true riches in order to live a happy life. In Ecclesiastes (Track 2), a Jewish wisdom teacher ponders the vanity of human life. The psalmist invites us to bow in worship and praise before God our Maker. The second reading encourages followers of Christ to focus on the things that are above. In the gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool.

God suffers or celebrates, depending on how we live our lives. Injustice is an affront to God; it literally pains God and leaves in its wake divine sorrow and anger. God is not an amoral force, but God’s energy encompasses us all – believer and atheist, pacifist and terrorist, humankind and the non-human world.

To live for earthly things “is vanity and a striving after wind,” and work that is driven by such vanity “is an unhappy business” (Eccl. 1:13–14). The man who lives like that has nothing to show for “all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun … all his days are full of sorrow” (Eccl. 2:22–23). We can’t take it with us. So why do we worry so much about it?

The foolish live their lives solely for their own pleasures on earth and ignore the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. The Wisdom Tradition of the Bible tells us this is vanity, a chasing after wind, something that will never be fully realized or satisfied. Life is empty. On the other hand, the foolish also live their lives focused solely on heaven and not caring about this life or the people in this world.

So, too, your “covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5), makes a god out of that which cannot give you life or happiness. For “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15)

The wise look to living their lives for God, which means living for others. But “Christ who is your life” (Col. 3:4), in giving you Himself, gives you all the wealth of heaven. Instead of striving to lay up treasures for yourself, be “rich toward God” in Him (Luke 12:21). We are called to love and care for others, but especially the ones in need. With that, we live with the hope of resurrection, knowing that life continues after death, though we may not know what that looks like, we hold on to that hope. We live our lives on earth with the same hope for eternity—to live into God’s ways of love and justice that restores and heals and brings wholeness.

II. Summary

First Reading –  Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

The Book of Ecclesiastes recounts a wisdom teacher’s exploration of the meaning of life. The author is described in 12:9-10 as a teacher and writer. The name of the book, derived from the Greek word ecclesia, is a translation of the Hebrew, Qoheleth, which probably identifies the one who gathers an assembly. This is the only passage from the book anywhere in our Sunday Lectionary. It was probably written at the end of the third century B.C.E. and polemicizes against an understanding of wisdom as the guarantee of a long, successful, and happy life. Another theory is that it is an attempt to profit as much as possible from the Greek understanding of the world, without forcing Israel’s wisdom to give up its status.

The concept of Wisdom Literature is included in 3 books -Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. What Wisdom concerned itself with were the values of a culture and the moral life of society in general. . In the three books we see different approaches and themes. Job is undergirded with a theological sense as the arguments about life are made. Proverbs with its pithy sayings is commentary on daily life, and Ecclesiastes takes a radical approach, twisting standard thought and commentary on life.

The selections from Ecclesiastes, from one of the Wisdom books, shares the Teacher’s (the writer of Ecclesiastes) view that much of human life is a “chasing after wind.” What is often translated as “vanity” in the New Revised Standard Version is more closely related to mist or vapor—something that appears but we can’t grasp it, can’t attain it. The work we do for things, for earthly success—this is vanity, a chasing after wind. Life passes by and the endless grind of work changes nothing . What good is all that effort when the fruit of one’s work and efforts are simply turned over to someone else.

This passage marks a break in our thread of following God’s keeping of the covenant, though the last two verses of chapter 2 show that when we enjoy our work, when we have enjoyment from what we are doing in our lives, there is nothing better than this. Perhaps this is a response of God from the covenant—to those who are faithful, perhaps there is more joy in one’s life, more fulfillment. The old question of if it all turned out to be false, if there was no God or heaven, did we waste our lives can be answered by the Teacher: no. The vanity and chasing after wind is worrying about the question. The joy is found in living one’s life for God.

Psalm –  Psalm 49:1-11

Psalm 49:1-12 sings from the Wisdom tradition about the importance of one’s life, for both the wise and the foolish face the same fate. Fools trust in riches, while the wise trust in God. For us today, with the economy over the past few years, we know the folly of trusting in riches, in stock markets, in corporations and conglomerates. Our trust must be in God, and our work must be for this life for God.

The psalmist proposes to enlighten us about our situation, our life, and our condition. Humanity hangs in the balance between a situation of wealth, which seems to condemn us to a life that cannot respond to the needs of others, and the situation of poverty that is unmet by the resources of the wealthy. The poor person will perish as will the wealthy one. What is common to both is mortality, and all are “fools” in the face of it. This is a most appropriate text to follow the Ecclesiastes reading

This psalm encourages confidence in God’s justice, especially when it seems that evildoers prosper. The psalmist urges his audience to remember that the ungodly and those who rely on their wealth are deluded for they cannot protect themselves from death.

Epistle-  Colossians 3:1-11

This is the end of our tour of Colossians, which Paul wrote to combat certain doctrinal and disciplinary errors afoot in the Christian community at Colossae. Paul’s letters (and letters of those using Paul’s name) often start with doctrinal matters and then end with moral injunctions. The cosmic powers mentioned there have no claim on Christians’ loyalty. The demands of earthly religions (required rituals, dietary restrictions, fasting, etc.) are null and void for those whose allegiance is to the heavenly Christ

Paul now turns to discuss the practical consequences of the believer’s acceptance of Christ as lord. He uses a form of teaching probably developed as a part of baptismal instruction (Ephesians 4:22-5:5). In living out the reality of having been “raised with Christ” (v. 1) the Christian is to exhibit a transcendent quality of life here and now. In baptism those to be baptized put off their old clothes and put on the new white baptismal robe as a token of their having put off the old nature and put on the new.

While Colossians does not forsake personal images of God, it places them in a global – indeed, cosmic – perspective. Christ moves in our lives and Christ is also the moral and spiritual energy moving through the universe, not limited or confined to a particular religion, nation, or planet. God is the circle whose center is everywhere, that is, God is the inner movement and energetic force within all things. God’s circumference is also nowhere, unbounded and unlimited in care and activity. The transpersonal nature of divine omnipresence is the complement to divine presence in this passing moment. It keeps us from absolutizing our relationship to God to the detriment of others’ well-being.

We cannot live in the worldly ways, seeking worldly success, living off of worldly pleasures. We must live a better way, for God, which requires us to become a new person, a new creation that lives for God and not for the foolishness of the world that puts one’s self above others.

This fact must now be lived out in putting to death the old way of life and putting on the new life in Christ (Romans 13:14). They are to show forth the characteristics proclaimed and exhibited in Jesus’ ministry. Being clothed with this “new self,” they experience a continual process of renewal, the goal of which is the knowledge of God. Barriers are broken and all live in Christ as a community of believers.

Gospel –  Luke 12:13-21

Today’s reading comes from a section of the travel narrative (12:1–13:21) that stresses readiness for the coming crisis when a decision for the kingdom must not be delayed. The man who approaches Jesus is presumably a younger brother who wishes his elder brother to divide the inheritance that he was likely given as the oldest son. Jesus rejects the request for arbitration and tells a parable that challenges the greed in us all.

The rules and regulations regarding inheritance can be found in Numbers 27:1-11The point here, however, is not the inheritance itself, but rather the attitude about the inheritance and the wealth that it implies.

Jesus then speaks words of warning about greed . To make certain that his words on greed are heard a parable is offered, Parable of the Rich Fool

Falling into the Wisdom tradition, we hear from Jesus’ own words that storing up treasures on earth is not worth it. The farmer in the parable is wealthy, and product of both work and blessing. The temptation is that these things are enough in and of themselves. It is time for relaxation, a time to send anxiety away. What is forgotten, in Jesus’ telling of his story, is that God and Neighbor (the two focal points of the Law) are forgotten

We are called to live our lives for God, and that requires us to live our lives for others, especially for those who fall through the cracks of life. Jesus tells us that whoever is first must become last of all and servant of all. We cannot become last when we are busy storing up our own treasures in bigger barns. Death comes unexpectedly – ” This very night your life is being demanded of you.”

The parable of the rich fool has many parallels, both in classical literature and in Old Testament Wisdom writing (Sirach 11:18-19; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Wisdom 15:8). The rich man is “a fool,” that is, one who in practice acts as if God does not exist (Psalm 14:1). He has made provision for his own comfort but not for his ultimate destiny because without warning, his “soul” (Greek, psyche), meaning his life or self, is required of him. He illustrates the fate of all who confuse their priorities and rely too confidently on their own power.

The division of the world’s population into the haves and the have-nots is not new. The Bible hammers away at social and economic injustice. The massive volume of ethical legislation in the Pentateuch was meant to become the operating principle of everyday life; it was intended to insure responsible conduct in all phases of human life and relationships. These unparalleled ethical precepts depended on the Israelites’ unique knowledge of the majesty and holiness of God and were binding upon them because God had said, “Be holy: for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45).

When Jesus came, he dramatized God’s infinite mercy toward all creatures–rich, poor, sick, well, religious and non-religious, sinner and righteous. In parable and sermon and in his own life, Jesus put flesh-and-blood on the observance of the law. Imagine the change in world affairs if human beings ordered their lives to honor and glorify God–if everything were done “in the name of the lord Jesus.”

Jesus was no sentimentalist who reduced God’s judgment to kindly indulgence. He knew that a true reflection of God’s mercy could only come from knowing one’s self to be forgiven for offenses against God’s clearly defined standards. In seeking out the lost and the outcasts of society, Jesus embodied God’s absolute love and mercy.

It is clear that God has created all that is necessary for our well-being; God desires that we should prosper and be in good health. There is nothing desirable or uplifting in poverty and sickness. True, adversity may serve to strengthen our faith, but there is no guarantee that trouble makes us into spiritual giants. Nor is it certain that prosperity and health would free us to pursue a godly life.

Neither circumstance is advantageous to us in the kingdom of God. Our real life does not consist in either abundance or the lack of earthly possessions. The proper attitude toward our heavenly treasure in Christ delivers us from false guilt over our abundance and from coveting the good fortune of others. A heart steeped in God’s love can be a trustworthy guide to sharing with others. Stewardship and gratitude to God are directly related.

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