18 Sunday of the Year C
Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23; Col 3:1-5; 9-11; Lk 12:13-21
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle B, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2008 and republished in Viet Nam 2011. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
One of the human instincts is yearning for security. Advertisements for health insurance, life insurance, savings accounts and social security coverage all have something to do with the instincts for security and survival. As for personal lives, we prepare and plan for future with social security when we retire. We also prepare for our children’s future, for those who depend on us in case of our earlier death. A human being is aware of his insufficiency and vulnerability. He/she seeks someone or something that can fill the void.
He/she needs someone or something that can give him/her some security, some meaning and purpose in life. As a result, many people do not find what they look for because they rely on material things that are passing. In spite of material guarantee, advanced technology and science, man is still not happy. So how can we solve this problem of unhappiness? Should we turn to science, technology, medicine, tranquilizers, anti-anxiety pills, anti-depression pills, or something else?
The author of the book of the Ecclesiastes today realizes everything a man has worked for so hard with his wisdom and knowledge in this world is useless. The Ecclesiastes calls his endeavors vanity, because he has to leave it to someone else who has not labored over it (Eccl 2:21-23). That’s why Saint Paul in his letter to the Colossians tells us to lift our minds and hearts to heaven and seek things of heaven, and not things below (Col 3:2). The gospel relates to us a man who asked Jesus to tell his brother to share the inheritance with him. Jesus told him to guard himself from every kind of greed because his long lasting security does not consist of his possessions on earth.
Then he told us about the parable of the rich man whose land produces a good harvest that he has not enough space in his barns to store his harvest. Therefore, he decided to build larger barns. Then he told himself: Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, so rest, eat, drink, be merry (Lk 12:19). At this point, God said to the rich man: You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong (Lk 12:20)?
Why did the author of the Ecclesiastes call the man who has worked hard with his wisdom and knowledge vanity (Eccl 2:23)? Why did Jesus call the rich man who has collected his belongings a fool (Mt 5:20)? The answer is, both of them worked for the sake of working. They considered work as an end and purpose in this life instead of considering them only as a means to sustain life.
Jesus wants us to respond to our longing for security. We know money is the necessary means to support life. We need to work and to save money for a rainy day: sickness, surgery or unemployment. Jesus himself put one of his apostles in charge of money business. However, we will make a serious mistake if we think money can guarantee us lasting security. Our longing for lasting security cannot be satisfied with passing things. In today’s gospel, Jesus wants us to put our longing for security in proper order. He wants us to become rich in what matters to God (Lk 12:21).
Reading the gospel today, we do not see any sign implying that the rich man had collected his wealth dishonestly or defrauded anyone. The mistake of the rich man is he thought he could hold his destiny in his hands. He relied on himself and his material possessions in order to guarantee his temporal security. He only sought his temporal security and did not look far enough to seek lasting security, which, only God can give. He did not see beyond himself until it was too late.
Prayer for how to seek lasting values:
Oh Lord God, you are our fortress and reliance.
Teach me to lift up my mind and heart toward heaven
as to seek lasting security.
Teach me to put my faith, hope and trust in you
in all the circumstances of my life:
in joy and sadness, in success and failure
in sickness and health.
Do not let me lose my hope in you. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong