Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of Ecclesiastes, a possible translated name is the Book of the (early) Church. The early faith communities used to read and reflect upon this book so much that it was given the name of the “Church Book.” It is actually the message and sayings of a teacher or preacher named Qoheleth which were gathered into this book in about the third and fourth centuries before Christ. In this pre-Christian era the popular culture believed that the thinkers of that time could unlock the mystery of God. They speculated quite loudly that God perhaps could be defined and understood. Qoheleth, however, totally disagrees with their boast. God, to him, is beyond understanding. And thus he also says that God is beyond our control and indeed God’s actions beyond our prediction.
The beginning words of this book are stark reality. They clearly delineate where we belong. These words do not win “friends and influence people.” You are not popular if you utter these words. Qoheleth is more focused on what we know rather than whom we know. He is far from being politically correct; he certainly does not resemble the TV evangelist who is warm and personable and preaches the new “Gospel of Prosperity” and comfort.
Qoheleth has lived long enough to have seen and known it all. He has wisdom enough to know that personal vanity runs very deep in people, and our tendency to control is unceasing and endlessly inventive. He believes that the world is fundamentally mysterious and its ways are beyond our reckoning. He knows that God is the giver and we are the receivers. This does not excuse us from active involvement in the world, of course, instead it should allow us to make sense of and monitor the quality of that involvement.
We realize in life that people often ask “pushy” or “inappropriate” questions and so Jesus gets asked also. This man who shouted out his question to Jesus honestly must have expected him to solve his inheritance problem. This was the only thing that mattered to him and it did not matter if a famous miracle worker had come to town. His inheritance was all that counted. What is good is that Jesus responded to the man’s question and then used it as an occasion to talk about wealth. When our accumulation of assets and money becomes the most important, he says, we run the risks of division. The obsessive drive for wealth can drive a big wedge between family members and friends. Accumulation of assets and wealth can divide one’s heart and steal one’s time. The unbalanced pursuit of wealth can determine the place and duration of family time and meals together, whittle away at weekends, cancel vacations. It, in fact, drives every moment of one’s life. It can create new giant barns crowded with new things. It can create connections that really are not worth much in the run of life. It detracts us from everything in life each day. This kind of wealth is clearly not worthy of the human soul.
When Luke writes his version of this scene, he actually has in mind the end times. Members of the early Church were very conscious of the Second Coming of Jesus, and they thought it was imminent and would clearly arrive without delay. This expectation influenced their view of life on earth, and it is reflected in this story. It does not matter if you are preoccupied with the end times: the parable has the same message and meaning. It reflects other parables that insist that we be rich in God and we consider everything else as less.
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