Posts Tagged ‘All things are vanity; real joy; reconciling God and pain’

Vanity and Joy

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Eccl 1: 2; 2: 21-23; Col 3: 1-5, 9-11; Lk 12: 13-21

Dc. Larry Brockman

“Vanity of Vanities; all things are Vanity!”  It’s a hard lesson to learn, but at some point in our lives, we will all learn it, whether we like it or not.

Life in this world can be so precious and good, can’t it: a newborn baby; the joy that children and grandchildren bring; experiencing the beauty and diversity of God’s creation; discovering and using our talents; our first love; friendships and marriage; great food and music and the arts.  All the things the world has to offer are so good and attractive, especially when we are young and vigorous.  In fact, when we are young and vigorous, anything beyond our goals and joys and activities in this world seems remote and unimportant to us.

And so, all this talk about vanity sounds so depressing doesn’t it.  But if we are honest about it, the reality of worldly life comes into focus in our first reading, because all things that we experience in this world are vanity- all of them can be taken away from us; or all of them can pass away as we know them.  Some of us suddenly and for no apparent reason lose a child; a spouse, or a parent.  Others lose their talents and agility through illness- a heart attack, a stroke, dementia, arthritis and many others.  Still others suffer greatly from poverty, lack of work, prejudice, or failed or wounded relationships.  If none of this has happened to you yet; just wait- chances are something will.  And when these things happen, either we grieve the losses; or we endure the suffering, or we suffer our own limitations or all of these things combined.  Sometimes we ask the question- Why me?  And yet something traumatic happens to all of us in life.  Even the person in perfect health who seems to have it all dies some day; and they can’t take it all with them.  Jesus’ story in the Gospel makes that very clear.  Yes, all of us experience a wake-up call that shouts loudly to us “All things are Vanity”.

That brings up a very interesting question.  How do we reconcile this seemingly depressing message with the joy that we are supposed to feel as Christians?  Well, Paul and Jesus both give us some great insights.  First, Paul says to focus on things that are above, things that last.  He is referring to the Kingdom of God.  For weeks now we have been hearing about the Kingdom of God.  But the message of these several weeks may have eluded us.

So, a reminder is in order.  The Kingdom of God is already among us; the joy of the Kingdom of God can be experienced now and will remain with us; it will not pass away; and following God’s will is what brings us that joy both now and in the next life in Heaven.

In the gospel, Jesus says something very pointed:  He says: “One’s life does not consist of possessions”.  Then he tells the parable about the rich man storing up earthly treasures, but whose life will be lost that very night.  He goes on to say:  “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God”.

The joys that come to us in our lives, like the joy of having a new baby, our marriages, our relationships and using our talents, these things do remain with us when they are all part of God’s plan for us, because no matter what happens to us in this world we bring them with us into the next.  We are storing up treasures in areas that matter to God when we are loving, sharing, and responsive to the urges that God gives us to follow after Jesus.

But when we focus only on our own pleasure and comfort here; when we become absorbed and consumed with that, then the reality of the world will eventually catch up to us like it did for the rich man in the parable.  Storing up treasures of this world only leads us to disaster.

God loves us and has given us this world with all the great things it has to offer.  And yet, all things of the world, even our gifts, are loaned to us- they don’t really belong to us because when we die, we can’t take them with us, and all such things are perishable anyway.  Hence, all things are truly vanity.  We need to put that into perspective.

And pain and suffering are part of life- they are part of life for all of us.  They were certainly part of life for Jesus and his disciples.  Some things that happen to us, the loss of a child for example, will just never seem right to us- they are a mystery.  Their meaning will be revealed to us some day, but not necessarily when we experience them.  But if we focus on living life to the fullest, always in tune with the Lord, trusting in His goodness, then the Kingdom of God will be there for us even in the midst of the suffering.

Think back on the moments of your life that brought you the most joy.  I’m not talking about pleasure, but joy.  Chances are they are moments when you listened to God or when you saw God in others or His creation.  They are tender moments, memories, and legacies.  And they are times when you did something for someone else.  And some of these moments even come in the midst of tragedy.

It’s not that God is calling us to reject the world, but that God is calling us to be good stewards of His creation.  God is always calling us to something new; to follow him on the journey He has in mind for us.  He wants us to grow always- not to settle into a rut.  So, it is what is ahead of us that counts, not what is behind us.  And so, when God speaks to us, we are called to let go of both our riches and our sorrows and listen for what is ahead of us.

Our responsorial psalm points us in the right direction:  “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts”.