31 July [Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time]
Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
The vision of Ecclesiastes (also known as Qoheleth the preacher) in the first reading is a particularly bleak one. It still appeals greatly to people with a pessimistic turn of mind. “I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing of the wind” (1:14). Scholars say it represents an era of crisis in biblical history, a period of self-questioning; and that through it came a deepening of the spirit. If so, then we can hope that the same may be true of our own times.
No one can deny that there is truth in what Qoheleth says. We all give ourselves (and others) a lot of agony about words and thoughts, privileges and possessions and appearances…. We are capable of ruining our health, our peace of mind and the peace of our homes for nothing. “Vanity of vanities!”
Jesus takes up this theme in the gospel reading, expressing it typically as a story. But there is a difference. Qoheleth says the rich man is foolish because he “must leave all to someone who has not worked for it.” In other words, he is foolish to have worked, because he cannot enjoy all the fruits of it himself. Jesus said the rich man is foolish because he does not “amass for God,” or “make himself rich in the sight of God,” or “build up treasure in heaven.” These expressions meant almsgiving (see Luke 12:33; 16:9).
With greed, there are no winners. The greedy are damaging not only themselves but others. To picture the imbalance of wealth in the world, imagine the world as a village of 100 people, with all the existing population ratios remaining the same. It would look like this (though this summary could be a bit out of date). There would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from the Western Hemisphere, and 8 Africans. 52 of the villagers would be female, 48 male. 70 would be non-white, 30 white. 6 individuals would own 59% of the entire village’s wealth. 80 people would be living in substandard housing, 70 would be unable to read, 50 would suffer from malnutrition, 1 would have a college education, and 1 would own a computer.
The imbalances of the world are now truly drastic, and the cult of greed is destroying the earth’s populations - and now even the earth itself. That is the real “vanity of vanities.” The only real alternative is the Gospel.
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