18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Sunday's readings:
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Psalms 90:3-5, 12-14, 17
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Luke 12:13-21

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: What is important in life?
The Bible teaches that life extends beyond the temporal; therefore, life only makes sense if we can relate it to lasting values. In the First Reading, the inspired writer tells us that material wealth, earthly wisdom and its illusion of prosperity are all in vain—these are temporal works that are fleeting and without a real purpose or lasting reward.
In the Psalm Reading, the inspired writer tells us it is only God in His mercy who gives meaning to life. The psalmist asks God for both mercy and gladness—to be gratefully satisfied with what God has given, even with the struggles and suffering that are part of life. For someone who loves God and has faith in Him to guide his life, there are no bad days. Each day is a gift because each day is an opportunity to serve the Lord.
In our Second Reading, St. Paul reminds the Colossians and us that in the Sacrament of Christian Baptism, we have died to self-interest and sin and we have been raised to new life in Christ Jesus. The focus of our lives must therefore be Christ who promises us a share in His life of glory. However, St. Paul warns that this rejection of sin is an on-going process that must result in living life in the Spirit who transforms us in the image and likeness of Christ. In the Sacrament of Baptism, all believers in Christ submit their lives to God's will, are raised to new life, and are equals in Christ. It is living in fellowship with Jesus that makes life meaningful.
The First Reading prepares us for our Gospel Reading. Jesus tells the Parable of the Rich Fool to demonstrate the foolishness of striving for the material over the spiritual. His message is that temporal life is fleeting. The accumulation of works of love and mercy pleases God, and it is those good deeds that are credited toward eternal life.
People who only run after material goods and earthly values that perish will never be satisfied. Life becomes meaningful when it is related to God in prayer and worship and to others in the human family to whom we demonstrate God's love. It is then that life has meaning because we have God's forgiveness of our sins and the hope of eternal salvation through Christ Jesus. This is our petition in our opening prayer: "Forgive us our sins and restore us to life. Keep us safe in your love. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

The First Reading Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23 ~ The Folly of Life
1:2 Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
2:21 Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and yet to another who has not labored over it, he must leave property. This also is vanity and a great misfortune. 22 For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? 23 All his days sorrow and grief is his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest. This also is vanity.

The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes identifies himself as Qoheleth. It is not a proper name but is a participle of the Hebrew verb qahal, meaning "to gather" or "to assemble." It suggests someone who speaks to an assembly in a loud voice; therefore, English translators often render it "the Preacher" or "the Teacher." The meaning of the Hebrew word qoheleth is also reflected in the Greek title of the book which is ekklesiastes or "someone who convokes an assembly" (ekklesia).

The first and last chapters of the book of Ecclesiastes begin and end with the same words: "Vanities of vanities (1:2 and 12:8). The inspired writer is not speaking of vanity in the sense of someone who has an exaggerated sense of his own appearance or the worth of his accomplishments but in the sense of the perishable quality of everything that is a part of the temporal world. The word "vanities" sums up the central theme of the book and is the inspired writer's assessment of the things of the material world and the futile fruits of most of human endeavors. Some scholars believe the Hebrew root of the word translated as "vanity' means "vapor" or "air," but other scholars link the Hebrew word to a root that means "fleeting" or "evanescent" or something that cannot be grasp. In any event, both meanings convey the idea of something that is an illusion or an unreality with no consistency.

The passage in our reading makes the statement that life is empty without God. The inspired writer lists some examples of how impossible it is to attain happiness only by following the path of human experience and endeavors. Life experience that develops into worldly wisdom and material wealth is not lasting; it can only be inherited by one's descendants or heirs who did not work to earn it: and yet to another who has not labored over it, he must leave property. These labors and the accumulation of wealth are expected to bring happiness, but such striving leads nowhere and only brings anxiety (2:22). The earthly toil that leads to prosperity and life experience that should yield wisdom is vanity because in the end there is nothing to show for the value of all man's earthly struggles and stored up wealth that cannot follow one in death. Material wealth, earthly wisdom and its illusion of prosperity are all in vain; it is work that is fleeting and without a real purpose or lasting reward.

Responsorial Psalm 90:3-5, 12-14, 17 ~ God's Eternity and Human Frailty
The response is "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."

3 You turn man back to dust, saying, "Return, O children of men." 4 For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday, now that it is past, or as a watch of the night.
Response:
5 You make an end of them in their sleep; the next morning they are like the changing grass, which at dawn springs up anew, but by evening wilts and fades.
Response:
12 Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart. 13 Return, O LORD [Yahweh]! How long" Have pity on your servants!
Response:
14 Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days. 17 And may the gracious care of the LORD [Yahweh] our God be ours; prosper the work of our hands for us! Prosper the work of our hands!
Response:

Psalms 90-106 comprise the fourth part of the five books of the Psalms. This section begins with Psalm 90 that is entitled "The Prayer of Moses" and ends in Psalm 106 in which Moses appears again (106:16, 23, 32). This is the only psalm attributed to Moses, perhaps because of its references to the creation of man from the dust of the earth (Gen 2:7; Ps 90:3).

The focus of the psalm is on the creation of man, formed by God from the dust of the earth (Gen 2:7), and it is to dust that his physical body is doomed to return (Gen 3:19). Even if he were to live a thousand years (a number symbolizing a very long time), the length of man's life would be nothing compared to the eternity of God. St. Peter will quote verse 4 in 2 Peter 3:8-9 for Christians who are impatient for Christ's Second Coming. Man's life is fleeting like the grasses of the field that spring up and then wither and die (Psalm90:5).

In verses 12-14 the inspired writer tells us it is only God who can provide the wisdom man needs to make sense of a life full of toil and suffering. It is God in His mercy who gives meaning to life. The psalmist asks God for both mercy and gladness and to be gratefully satisfied with what God has given, even with the struggles and suffering that are part of life (verses 13-14). For someone who loves God and has faith in Him, there are no bad days. Each day is a gift because each day is an opportunity to serve the Lord. The Lord is merciful and pardons man, making his life joyful in his relationship with God (verse 14). The psalmist then asks the Lord to grant us His grace in guiding the works of our hands to be good works that have value (verse 17).

The Second Reading Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11 ~ Christ gives meaning to life
1 If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. [...]9 Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.

St. Paul tells the Colossians and us that in the Sacrament of Christian Baptism, we have died to self-interest and sin and we have been raised to new life in Christ Jesus. The focus of our lives must therefore be Christ who promises us a share in His life of glory. But this rejection of sin is an on-going process which will result in living life in the Spirit who transforms us in the image and likeness of Christ. By living the message of the Gospel that the risen, living in Christ is the source of salvation, Christians will be free from false religious evaluations like circumcision, social status, ethnic ties and other human conditions of the world. They have died to these and have "put to death ... the parts ... that are earthly" (verse 5). In verse 5 St. Paul lists five evil practices (a second list of five sins are found in verse 8 that is not in our reading). Idolatry is a form of greed because the purpose of worshipping false gods is to advance one's earthly state materially apart from God's will, taking control over one's own life. In the Sacrament of Baptism, all believers in Christ submit their lives to God's will, are raised to new life, and are equals in Christ: 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all. It is living in fellowship with Jesus that what makes life meaningful.

The Gospel of Luke 12:13-21 ~ A warning against temporal labors and the sin of greed (The Parable of the Rich Fool)
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me." 14 He replied to him, "Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?" 15 Then he said to the crowd, 'Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions." 16 Then he told them a parable. "There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. 17 He asked himself, 'What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?' 18 And he said, 'This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods 19 and I shall say to myself, "Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!" 20 But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?' 21 Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God."

A man seeks Jesus' intervention in a family dispute over inheritance, but Jesus denies his request because that is not His mission. His mission is concerned with the man's spiritual condition and not the just distribution of material assets. There were courts of law set up to deal with such issues. Instead, Jesus offers a teaching on the dangers of greed and a warning that material possessions do not define what is really important in life. The contrast in His teaching is between those like the rich man in the parable who only defines "riches" in the material sense with no thought to his eternal condition as opposed the others who focus on pleasing God and the promise of an eternal reward. The parable is related to Jesus' earlier teaching on the importance of fearing God who is the One who will deliver one's final judgment (Lk 12:4-5).

In Jesus' parable, the rich man's problem is that he does not love God above all else; he does not fear God's judgment, nor does he have any concern for his eternal destiny. Jesus teaches that the essence of a person cannot be defined by his material goods but rather by the person's words and deeds. In the parable God calls the rich man a fool (verse 20) because in his selfishness and greed the man amassed a material abundance that was of no value to him when he died and faced God's divine judgment. If the man had wanted to please God, he would have used his abundance of material wealth to help the poor. His good deeds would have followed him into eternity, and his acts of mercy would have advanced the cause of his salvation.

Temporal life is fleeting; it is only the works of righteousness that are written in the Book of Deeds that will be opened at judgment: ... and a record book was written before him of those who fear the LORD [Yahweh] and trust in his name. And they shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts [Yahweh Sabaoth], my own special possessions, on the day I take action. And I will have compassion on them, as a man has compassion on his son who serves him. Then you will again see the distinction between the just and the wicked; between him who serves God, and him who does not serve him (Mal 3:16b-18; also see Ps 40:8; 56:8; Jer 17:1; Dan 7:10; Lk 10:20; Rev 20:12). It is the accumulation of good works that please God and which are credited toward eternal life. It is on the richness of those acts of love and mercy that one's life will be judged (Mt 25:31-46; Rev 20:11-12). This is the answer to the question: "What is important in life?"

Catechism References:
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11 (CCC 655, 665, 1002-3, 1420, 2772, 2796, 2809)
Luke 12:13-21 (CCC 549)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013; revised 2016