18th Sunday, O T Year C – 16
Eccl.1:2, 2:21-23/ Col.3: 1-5, 9-11/ Lk.12:13-21
There are many lessons in life that we keep learning over and over again. One lesson that life always teaches us is that we won’t appreciate something until we lose it. So it may be something precious, or it may be a pet, or it may be someone dear to us.
The sudden loss will embark us on an immediate and frantic search. And depending on how precious it is to us, our hearts and minds may not be at rest until we find it. But there are some things that are lost gradually and over a long period of time.
So much so that we don’t really notice it or miss it too much (until it is too late!) Well, one thing that I can think of, and it affects men as well as women, is hair loss. Oh yes, that crowning glory on our heads that we spend time in front of the mirror, combing, brushing, styling and even coloring (dyeing).
What started off as a full head of hair slowly thins along the years, and especially for men, there is the balding, or receding hair-line. Well, everything happens for a reason, but if we can’t understand it then at least, we can try to laugh at it.
A joke has it that a little boy was having his breakfast and then he asked his mother, “Mummy, Mummy, why does Daddy has so few hairs on his head?” His mother replied, “Because he thinks a lot.” And she was quite pleased with herself for coming up with such a quick answer.
Or so she thought, until the boy asked, “So Mummy, why do you have so much hair?” But whether there is plenty of hair or no hair, the 1st reading would call it as vanity. But whether it is about hair or look, it is just one of the vanities. There is also this vanity of vanities.
In the gospel, Jesus would put a name to this vanity of vanities. He calls it “avarice” which is the extreme greed for wealth and material gains. It all began when Jesus refused a request from a man to be a judge or arbitrator over the sharing of inheritance with his brother.
Jesus then took the opportunity to expose the cause of this fight over the sharing of inheritance. In fact, it is not just about the fight over inheritance, it is about the desire and craving for material gains, whether rightfully or otherwise.
Jesus then told a parable that will certainly make us think and even lose some hairs. But what is hair-raising is when God appears in the parable and says to the rich man: Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul, and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?
If someone were to call us a fool, it is a great insult. But if God were to call us a fool, then it would be the greatest tragedy. And Jesus would tell us what a fool is – a fool is someone who stores up treasures for himself in place of making himself rich in the presence of God.
St. Paul likewise gives us wise advice found in today’s second reading when he tells us we should rid ourselves of immorality, impurity, passion, lustful desires and all of the fool’s gold offered us by the worldly. Why?
Because in the long run all such things are worthless and empty and all of our energies devoted to those things will be vain. Is lusting the path to happiness? What will it all mean and what value will it have when we meet Christ face to face?
We live in a very competitive world, a world that tells us we are really somebody when we are popular, when we have clothes or money, or look more beautiful than others, a world that judges our value on what we have or how we appear.
Our professions, the advertising industry¸ the world of fashion, and even our academic institutions are all built on measures of value that have nothing to do with how God sees us and values us. Who does not want to be Number One?
Who among us in our competitive world does not want to come out on top? Who among us does not want to be the most popular? But the question you need to face and I need to face is: Who is measuring our value?
In the end, like the man Jesus was talking about in today’s Gospel account, the man who was so concerned about the things of this world, we may hear God saying to us: ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Jesus gives us fair warning in telling us: Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” On the day we die, what can we give back to God that came to us from this life, a life that He gave to you and to me? Will it be our real estate holdings?
A big bank account? Our popularity? Fine clothes? A fancy car? Death, the great leveler, will render what this world values to be valueless. Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
We have heard of Alexander the Great. Legend has it that knowing that his end is near, he called his generals and said, “I will depart from this world soon, but I have three wishes and they must be carried out without fail.”
“Firstly, my physicians alone must carry my coffin. Secondly, when my coffin is being carried to the grave, the path leading to the grave will be strewn with all the gold and silver and precious stones that I have collected.”
“Finally, my last wish is that both my hands be kept dangling out of my coffin.” His generals assured him that his three wishes would be fulfilled, but they would like to know why those three strange wishes, and so he explained.
“I want my physicians to carry my coffin because people should realize that no doctor can cure every illness. They are powerless and cannot save a person from the clutches of death. So let people not take life for granted.
As for strewing the gold and silver and other riches along the way to the grave, that is to tell people that not even a fraction of gold will come with me. I spent all my life gaining riches but cannot take anything with me. Let people realize that it is a sheer waste of time to chase wealth.
And about my third wish of having my hands dangling out of the coffin, I want people to know that I came empty handed into this world and empty handed I will go out of this world.” And with those final words, Alexander the Great closed his eyes and breathed his last.
God wants us to die rich; He wants us to give Him a life that has value, a life that was lived well, rich in meaning and not lived in vain. What He wants and what we can give Him, regardless of our economic position or our social status, is a spirit, a soul that is richly adorned with attitudes and personality characteristics that are similar to those of Jesus Christ.
So from Alexander the Great, we learn those lessons about life. We learn that life and health are gifts from God. We must take care of it and yet we must realize that we cannot live forever nor be healthy always. We are only human, frail and weak.
We also learn that riches and wealth are only meaningful when they are shared with others. Riches and wealth are not only for “me”, they are for “we”. And finally, what you do for yourself dies with you, but what you do for others, lives on and makes you rich in the sight of God.
Yes, these are the lessons about life. Let us learn these lessons from life, rather than be taught a lesson by death. The difference between life and death is like a hair-line difference, but it is a difference between now and forever.
So let us learn the lesson of life from the parable of Jesus, so that we know how to live now, as well as forever. Amen.