Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23
Col 3:1-5, 9-11
Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
The readings today reminded me of an old joke. A wealthy man was about to die, and as he lay on his deathbed he called for his doctor, his lawyer, and his priest. He spoke to them and said, “I know they say you can’t take it with you, but I am and you are going to help me.” He gave each of them a bag containing 2 million dollars in cash, all of his wealth. He told them, “When my coffin is lowered into the grave, just before the grave is filled in, drop the money into the grave with me.” Soon after he died, and at graveside the doctor, the lawyer and priest stood, preparing to fulfill the man’s request. Then the doctor admitted, “I know it was wrong, but the hospital needed a new x-ray machine, so I used some of the money to buy it.” With that he tossed in the remainder. The priest then sheepishly confessed to using some of the money to put a new roof on the church. The church was leaking badly and the money, after all, was just going to waste. The lawyer looked at both of them, shook his head and said, “I am ashamed of you,” as he dropped a check for the full amount into the open grave.
No, you really can’t take it with you. I have yet to see a hearse with a luggage rack. Qoheleth bemoans that one struggles through life amassing things that still do not bring peace. The wealthy man in the Gospel has accumulated enough to live a life of ease, but will never benefit from his labor. So is it wrong to accumulate earthy wealth and goods? I hope not, I, like most of us, tend to like my stuff and my comfortable lifestyle. We work hard to earn what we need to take care of our families and ourselves, to get the things we need, and with a bit of luck, some of the things we want as well. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as we understand that at the end of the day it truly is just vanity. We can invest in pensions, 401K’s houses, cars, anything else, and buy ourselves a temporary bit of peace of mind. Yet you may as well do as our friend in the joke did, and have it all tossed into the grave. That is, finally, all it is really worth. We work hard to take care of the needs of this world; we need to work just as hard to take care of the needs of the next. We spend hours at work, how much time do we spend at prayer? We spend hours at work, how much time do we spend with our families, our children? We spend great amounts of money on clothing, cars, vacations, how much do we spend to aid those who aren’t as fortunate as we are? My goal here is not to make you feel guilty, or to tell you that your earthy things are evil. None of you could be more guilty than me. We have an obligation to take care of our families so we work to get what we need, and if we’re lucky, some of the things we want. Just remember that as we struggle to meet these earthly needs we cannot ignore the needs that, in the end, are the only ones that count.
Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Aug. 5, 2007