August 2, 2013

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first reading this weekend is from the Book of Ecclesiastes. The first verse states that the book is the work of Qoheleth, a son of King David, although no proper name actually is used. The book’s origins, despite this tradition, are puzzling.

The book’s name comes from the Greek, and then the Latin. This book seems to show a Greek influence, and Greek culture did not influence the Jews until centuries after Solomon. However, its Hebrew is of a style used long after Solomon’s time.

Many scholars today believe Ecclesiastes dates from only two or three centuries before Christ.

A virtual trademark of this book is its condemnation of human vanity. This scorn of vanity is in this weekend’s reading.

Vanity of course affronts God, the almighty and the perfect. It also displays the ignorance and illogic of humans, who overestimate themselves by seeing in human thought the greatest wisdom. Vanity also leads them to regard material wealth as ultimate value. It all causes them to spurn or discount God.

For its second reading, the Church presents a passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians. Continuing the general message of the first reading, this selection from Colossians calls upon Christians to focus on the things that truly matter, namely the things of God, counseling believers to rise upon temptations of this world. It sees sin as in essence idolatry.

St. Luke’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. Jesus appears in this reading as a mediator, asked by “someone in the crowd” (Lk 12:13) to resolve a dispute about inheritance. Readers of the Gospel are accustomed to such questions being put to the Lord. Did this person in the crowd, unnamed and unidentified in the Gospel, intend to trick Jesus, to put Jesus in an awkward position, to draw Jesus in the middle of an argument?

The questioner’s intentions well may not have been pure. Still, however, to invite anyone to mediate a dispute was a compliment. Such questioning presupposed that the person being questioned in fact possessed knowledge. Furthermore, it presupposed that all sides would respect the integrity and wisdom of the mediator. Not surprisingly, outright strangers, whose credentials were unknown, were never invited to mediate between arguing parties. Jesus was among people who knew him, maybe with great deference, to be a wise and informed teacher.

As would have been the etiquette of the time, Jesus hesitates before proceeding.

Under Jewish custom, surviving children did not have to negotiate a clear division of a deceased parent’s belongings. There must have been a problem. Rather than plunging into the argument, the Lord advised avoiding greed, insisting that material wealth has no true worth.

The Lord then tells the parable of the landowner who had great good fortune. His harvest was great. He plans to store the harvest so as to provide for his easy living in years to come. Such reasoning is foolish, Jesus says. No human can truly control his or her future. He then urges distributing any abundance among the needy.

Reflection

From the earliest times in the history of revelation, the holy have dealt with the human tendency to measure all things, even life itself, in material terms. It was a tendency with which the author of Ecclesiastes dealt. The Colossian Christians dealt with it. The Lord Jesus dealt with it.

These readings do not call us to reckless waste and abandonment of good sense and responsibility. Rather, they remind us that we are in the hands of God. We ultimately control nothing about our future, save by our voluntary decision to be one with God in Christ. In this decision, we assure ourselves a place at heaven’s eternal banquet.

This lesson is simple. Put first things first. †

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