by Fr Wiseman Nkomo
Click HERE for Sunday’s readings
Eccl 1:2, 2:21 – 23;
Col 3: 1 -5, 9- 11;
Luke 12:13 – 21.
Possessions without God and others are vanity.
In last week’s liturgical readings we were taught that it is God who provides for our needs. It is God who provides true knowledge, a knowledge which comes with the duty to act justly and it is God who provides for our daily needs. The call to act justly continues in this Sunday’s readings and this time there is a call to act justly in relation to possessions.
In the first reading we get a reflection on this question “is busying oneself with accumulating wealth worth it or is it all a chasing after the wind” (Ecl 2:11)? Right from the beginning of the reading, the answer is spelled out to this agonising question: “All is vanity” (Ecl 1: 2). People seek the most varied and refined pleasures; they crave for wealth and aspire to social consideration. They try to perpetuate their presence in the world through their children, fight and kill to achieve power. The conclusion is always the same: at the end, without distinction, they are stripped of everything.
Today’s first reading proposes the reflection of Qohelet on the accumulation of assets: “For here was a man who toiled in all wisdom, knowledge, and skill and he must leave all to someone who has not worked for it.” Is this not vanity and a great evil? (v. 21). So what to do? Stop working, not committing oneself any longer? Eating, drinking, having fun and not thinking about others? Qohelet advises his disciples a healthy enjoyment of what life offers. However, he leaves suspended the fundamental questions about the meaning of life. The answer cannot be found in his book but in the Gospel. Jesus will be the one to throw open new horizons, to teach not to fret about vanity, not to chase the wind.
In the second reading we hear St Paul who exhorts us saying “Set your mind on things that are above, not on earthly things” (v. 2). It seems an invitation to despise this world and to be impervious to material problems in order to turn only to heaven. However to understand this exhortation we must keep in mind that St Paul is speaking of baptism. A sacrament through which the Christian is dead to the old life, was raised with Christ and with him he started a whole new life (vv. 1-4). A life centred only on Christ.
It is therefore a call to forever turn away from the temptation to cling to the things of this world for they turn our attention away from the Lord and towards ourselves as we see in the parable of the rich fool in the gospel.
In today’s gospel we see that when it comes to possessions, even the best of people, Christians too, often end up losing their heads and become blind and deaf: they see only their interest and are willing to override even the most sacred sentiments. At times, with the help of a wise friend, the parties are able to agree, at other times instead the hatred lasts for years and the brothers stop talking to each other.
One day Jesus was chosen as a mediator to solve one of these family contrasts (v. 13). In such cases, a suggestion, a good tip is not denied to anyone. Here was the surprising answer of the Master: “Who has appointed me as your judge or your attorney?” (v. 14). Probably we do not agree with him. Why does he hold back? Does he want to teach not to give value to the realities of this world? Does he invite us to shy away from the real problems of life? Does he recommend to tolerate the oppression of the arrogant? It cannot be. A similar choice would be contrary to the rest of the Gospel. Let us understand it better.
The situation presented to him has arisen because one has attempted to commit an injustice and the other is in danger of suffering it. What to do? Various solutions can be taken: invent an excuse to escape the complicated issue, or rely upon the provisions in force that, in the time of Jesus, are those set forth in Deut 21:15-17. This section of Deuteronomy does give a solution to the problem but does not eliminate the cause from which all the discord, hatred and injustice are derived.
So instead of solving the individual case, Jesus chooses to go to the root of the problem. “Be on your guard—he tells everyone—and avoid every kind of greed, for even though you have many possessions, it is not that which gives you life” (v. 15). Here the cause of all evil is singled out: the greed of money, the desire to grab things. The disagreements arise always when one forgets a basic truth: the goods of this world do not belong to us but to God, who allocates them to all. Anyone who hoards for oneself, grabs more than he or she should, without thinking of others, distorts the Creator’s plan. The goods are no longer considered as gifts of God, but man’s property, from precious objects they are transformed into idols to worship. In his response Jesus is clear that what should occupy our lives is our destination when our life in this world comes to an end, hence in his response one should not see contempt for material goods but his detachment from this world.
To clarify his thought he tells a parable (vv. 16-20), the central part of which consists of the long argument that the rich farmer does with himself. Why is this man called foolish? Listening to this man one cannot but wonder does he have no family, wife, and children? No neighbours? No workers? Of course, he has them. He lives among the people, but he does not see them. He has no time, no energies to use, no thoughts, no words, and no feelings for the people. He is only interested in one who speaks of property and suggests how to increase them. He thinks of the crops, the stores, and the wheat. In his mind there is no room for anything else, certainly not for God. The assets are the idol that has created a vacuum around him and has dehumanised all. Even the farmer, in his heart, is no longer a man; he is a thing: he is a machine that produces and makes calculations.
We feel compassion for him because he is a poor, unfortunate, mad man, as Jesus said. Something in him is broken because he has no inner balance, has completely lost the orientation and the meaning of life. He refers to nothing but “I” and “mine” meaning for him and his world everything is his, only he and his property exists. He is foolishly blinded by his what he has.
The gist of today’s message rests on the fact that possessions have the potential to blind us to the existence of God and others, and in that sense as we see in the first reading everything is vanity, which according to St Paul can be remedied by “Setting your mind on things that are above, not on earthly things” and according to Jesus’ teaching the greatest possession one can have is that which makes one rich in the sight of God. We can only achieve this richness in the eyes of God if we always remember that all possessions belong to God just as every created being belongs to Him.