Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. Even one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
You turn people back into dust
and say: 'Go back, children of men.'
To your eyes a thousand years
are like yesterday, come and gone,
no more than a watch in the night. (R./)
You sweep men away like a dream,
like grass which springs up in the morning.
In the morning it springs up and flowers:
by evening it withers and fades. (R./)
Make us know the shortness of our life
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Lord, relent! Is your anger for ever?
Show pity to your servants. (R./)
In the morning, fill us with your love;
we shall exult and rejoice all our days.
Let the favour of the Lord be upon us:
give success to the work of our hands. (R./)
Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "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."
"What does it profit us to have gained the whole world, and to have lost or ruined our own self?" (Lk 9:25). "Our life is not made secure by what we own, even when we have more than we need" (Lk 12:15). A worthy and purposeful life focus merely on heaping up money or a material legacy. The rich man in the parable believed his future was secure, and that his good fortune was entirely due to his own merits. It must have come as a shock to learn that his life was God's to give and God's to take away. We might even feel a sneaking admiration for this industrious man. There is in all of us some streak of greed and covetousness, wanting to own things at all costs.
Greed can spring from lack of love, and many people try to fill that void with property and celebrity. There is ample evidence of this on every side. The clamour of the rat-race, an obsessive scramble to advance by fair means or foul, the demands of already well-paid professionals for higher salaries, backed by the withdrawal of service if these demands are not met. Jesus opposes such self-seeking and wants us to face the question: What are my hopes for the life hereafter?
The rich fool spent his energies on piling riches upon riches. The other extreme would be to see no value at all in working for a lving. "Why bother with service since life is so short, and we can be fed at public expense?" Living off state benefits is not a valid vocational option. That tendency existed among some in the early Church, who thought that the second coming of Christ was so near that work was superfluous. Saint Paul, usually so concerned with spiritual growth, shows himself a pragmatist on this matter. "If anyone refuses to work, he should not eat."
Virtue is usually midway between extremes. We should apply this to our appetite for money. On the one hand we have the voluntary poverty of Jesus; born in a place used to house animals; he left this world owning nothing, stripped even of his clothes before being crucified. On the other side, we need some worldly goods, a place to live and money to live on. And there are many ways to use money responsibly. Someone rich who uses that wealth to provide worthwhile employment, is doing more than one who claims to believe the gospel but does nothing for the welfare of others.
We lay up treasure for ourselves in heaven, not only through loving God, but also by love of neighbour. To play our proper part we must put to death our vices, especially greed which is like worshipping a false god. Nothing can better show the relativity of money than the question, "This pile of yours, when death comes knocking - whose shall it be?'
Has the parable of the rich fool anything to say to us today? Can we afford to ignore our financial advisors and make no provision for the future? Has any Christian community ever put this parable into practice, literally. Even the earliest church in Jerusalem needed to appoint seven deacons to administer the distribution of alms, so that the apostles could devote themselves to preaching Christ's message.
We need to understand the parable correctly. The rich man's fault was not in planning ahead. He was perfectly right to provide for the rainy day. Where he went wrong was in thinking only of himself, his own comfort and well-being, while ignoring the wretched fellow starving as his gate. He forgot his responsibility to the community at large. It is only when we live and work in some social solidarity that we fit in with God's plan for us.
The last sentence of the parable is stark and clear: Do not store up treasure for yourself, but seek to be rich in the sight of God. What does this mean? Later it becomes clear: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God. . . Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." (Lk 12:31-34)
Seeking the Kingdom of God requires more than just joining others in worship. It includes all the chances for practical service that life puts into our hands. By giving ourselves in neighbourly service we "lay up treasure in heaven." Whatever we give to others in this way is not loss, but the kind of gain that really counts.
Jesus speaks of treasure in heaven, as quite different from financial profit on earth. "There's no pocket in the shroud" is a wise old saying. To be poor in spirit, even if I am wealthy, my money it does not own me, nor am I enslaved to it. It is a commonplace that while the first million (euro, pounds or dollars) may be the hardest to make, it breeds a compulsion to gather even more. There's a difference between riches and inner, spiritual wealth. There is no greater wealth than a loving, kind heart. Money cannot buy happiness.
It is such a simple lesson, but one we never learn if we refuse to let it sink in. When we die, we have to let go of everything. A doctor was at the bedside of a wealthy woman wo was dying, who a reputation for being miserly. She had no family of her own, so there was great interest as to who would inherit her wealth. ("Where there's a will, there are relatives!'). When she passed away, one of the nurses whispered "I wonder how much did she leave behind?" Quietly the doctor answered, "She left everything."