The readings for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time stress that the purpose for which we do things determines the value of our achievements.
The author of the first reading tells us: “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” The Hebrew word for vanity is breath or vapor. It is something that passes away.
In that sense, the death of the pauper or the death of the billionaire have the same result — both leave everything behind.
The author isn’t saying people shouldn’t work to accumulate things. The author focuses on the purpose of working. If the purpose of our labors is to acquire material possessions that stay with us, then we are as foolish as the person who is grasping to hold on to passing vapors.
Human breath is important, but we can’t take in the next breath until we first exhale. We can’t hold on to our possessions after we die any more than we can hold on to the air we inhale.
The purpose gives our labor its value. There is nothing wrong in laboring to acquire possessions as long as we recognize that possessions are not really ours. All we have belongs to our God.
For that reason, our purpose of laboring determines the real value of our labor. If we acquire possessions and use them for the glory of God, and pass them along to future generations for the glory of God, then our labors are fruitful because they are directed toward the glory of God.
Then, our labors take on eternal consequences. Our relationship with our God is the ultimate value of our labors on earth. Our labors are a way of growing our relationship with our God. When we invite Him into our lives and live according to His will, our lives bring Him glory and He in turn will share His glory with us for all eternity.
The responsorial psalm re-enforces the first reading. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” The psalm continues: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.”
We number our days aright when we listen to God’s voice daily and allow His word to guide and direct our actions. When we allow God’s word to direct our lives, we experience being at peace with our God, which means we are walking in His ways. This ways, He gives our steps a firmness of purpose. We know we are moving toward the fulfillment He is offering us.
In the second reading, Paul tells the Colossians and us that in all of our activities we should “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with Him in glory.”
When we daily read and reflect on the Scriptures, then we are thinking of what is above and of what is to come. That means that our daily values flow from reflecting on the word of God. That is what enables us to put to death what is carnal and passing, and enables us to live a life “hidden with Christ in God.”
When our life is “hidden with Christ in God,” we allow Christ to live in us. Everything that is accomplished is accomplished because we have given Christ permission to prepare us for the Father. Then we can say with Paul: “It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.” Then we can also say with Paul: “Christ is all and in all.”
The Gospel is refreshing because Christ doesn’t beat around the bush. He delivers the blunt truth as a wake-up call. Just when the rich man has stored up grain for many years, he says to himself: “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”
God says to him: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”
A graced response on the part of the rich man might be: “O Lord, you can have them all. I just don’t want to lose you!” However, to expect that grace which was never embraced for a lifetime is shear presumption. As we live, so we die.
“Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Let us never take our eternal salvation for granted. If we daily allow our reflections on the word of God reveal for us the will of God for each day, then our purpose in life is the glory of God.
The daily trials and hardships that come our way and the disappointments and sufferings that unexpectedly come our way are related to our relationship with God and our future life of glory.
When we are living a life of prayer centered on our God, then suffering and disappointments only bring God more deeply within us as we embrace them. Every disappointment and heartache and pain we embrace in union with Christ on the cross further refreshes our life in Christ.
In all of Paul’s sufferings, his shipwrecks, scourgings and physical attacks, God was always present to him, and Paul simply allowed God’s presence to sustain him and give him the grace to keep on witnessing. Yesterday Christ lived in Paul. Today He is living in us. What an incredible experience!