Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23; Psalm 90; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke12:13-21
Ecclesiastes, the preacher Qoheleth, speaks in the first reading about a common experience of bad luck. He is the famous pessimist of the Bible, for whom the glass is always half empty. What a vanity life is, he says, all that working and anxiety to make some money and guarantee some security. And how often does it happen that what is earned and built up by one person is, in the end, enjoyed by others. All our toil and anxiety, worry and grief: what does it achieve? Nothing really, it seems, as we die and the world continues on its way as before.
Jesus tells a parable along these lines, about a man who made far more than he could ever use, planned a wonderful retirement on the strength of what he had accumulated, and died before he could enjoy any of it.
But Jesus is not a pessimist. He endorses Qoheleth’s observation about what can happen but moves the reflection to another level. Such experiences of bad luck raise this question, he says, ‘in what then does your life consist’ if it clearly does not consist in accumulating possessions?
Some might choose to stay with Qoheleth and ask ‘why should human life have any meaning’? But Jesus is not an absurdist either. The alternative source of meaning he proposes is ‘being rich towards God’. The meaning and value of a human life are found in relation to God. Only when we see our lives theologically do we see them rightly. We can fill in what the phrase ‘rich towards God’ means from how we have seen Jesus living his life and from his teaching: trust in God, prayer, attending to the needs of God’s children, ‘faith, hope and charity’ as it came to be summarised later. As regards material possessions, being rich towards God excludes greed and requires generosity, a readiness to share what we have.
Today’s second reading links neatly with the other two. Paul says that greed can even become a kind of idolatry. Depending on how we value possessions we might effectively be turning our relationship with material wealth into the relationship that is proper only with God. Our life is then based on a lie because human beings do not have value from what they own and can control, they have value in relation to God, from whom they come by creation and to whom they are destined to return by salvation.
Paul writes after the fuller revelation of who Jesus is. Your life, what is it, your true life? He can now say ‘it is hidden with Christ in God’. ‘Being rich towards God’ is itself given new depths of meaning through the paschal mystery of Christ. Paul goes even further: ‘Christ is your life’, he says. He writes elsewhere that it is no longer Paul who lives but Christ who lives in him (Galatians 2:20).
So any thought about saving our life, or finding meaning or value in our life, or giving security to our life, has to be referred to Christ. He not only teaches us that the work of love is not vanity, he shows that it is not vanity in his resurrection from the dead. The labour of his love bears fruit. His toil and grief under the sun is the sure foundation for a truthful living of human life.