Today’s readings: Ecclesiastes 1, 2 - 2, 21-23; Colossians 3, 1-5.9-11; Luke 12, 13-21.
Boredom can be a most tragic mood in life. It is the mood dominating today’s reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes which laments quite pessimistically that life is vanity and that all is vanity. This is the mood that grips anyone who can find no reason to live. Faith can provide a different perspective on life. But before faith, we need wisdom.
The author of Ecclesiastes is actually not coming to the conclusion himself that, after all, “all is vanity”. It is wisdom that can make us see what vanity really is and what is folly in life. Yet the reading is philosophically provoking and makes us ask very pertinent questions about the sense of all we do and stand for.
We all need to be guided by a personalised philosophy of life. It is when we lack that guidance and the wisdom of living rightly that everyday toil becomes an end in itself and risks making life mere vanity. There is so much in life that is enjoyable, beautiful, and which gives so much sense and colour to daily living.
Today’s gospel and what St Paul writes to the Colossians in the second reading complement the philosophical aspect in Ecclesiastes and elaborate on the sense of living from a faith angle. We have to take good care of ourselves, comprising our body, soul and image. There is meaning in our earthly life, as long as we seek to live it fully and avoid being trapped in void distractions that easily become addictions.
If there is no meaning in what we do, we end up dreading waking up every morning, and boredom takes over. The belief in the afterlife should take nothing away from the meaning of our earthly life as long as we give heed to the gospel warning that we need to be on our guard against all that makes us forget our calling.
“You have been brought back to true life with Christ,” writes St Paul. Concretely, we remain all along torn between our old and new self. What belongs to our old self closes us in on ourselves, making us little gods and people who live simply for ourselves. Today’s gospel parable analyses a rich farmer who, faced with an abundance of crops, sought only to secure his earthly existence, forgetting that there is more to life than just material well-being.
Hoarding materially makes of us only ‘Scrooges’, cold-hearted misers badly in need of redemption. Our calling to become a new self is liberating from whatever is vicious in life and which, without our noticing it, can literally bury us alive. There is so much in life that can make us look and live like fools. It is always a question of choices.
Today we feel a deep sense of crisis in the collective conscience. The greed that governs us is just a symptom of this crisis. The greed to get at all costs what we don’t have; the greed to keep what we have, whatever the price; the greed that makes us live above our means.
This is avarice at its worst, with implications for our individual well-being and implications on the political level of a society constantly crucified with scandals and corruption. Little do we realise that Christian tradition ranks avarice, or greed, ahead of lust and second only to pride. It is what Thomas Aquinas called “the immoderate desire for temporal possessions”, the emphasis being on ‘immoderate’. Avarice is among the most hidden and dangerous sins.
In today’s gospel, Jesus was provoked to speak of the folly of hoarding by someone asking him to mediate in a conflict over an inheritance. Jesus here seems to ignore the issue of justice, being more irked by the fact that greed was a motive of enmity between two brothers.
Greed makes us live for the present at the cost of everything: values, beliefs, relationships, and our peace of mind. The new and alarming generation of addictions surfacing today is a symptom of a deeper social and individual malaise that prioritises having over being. This is fertile ground for the nihilist philosophy that believes wholeheartedly that ‘all is vanity’. The problem is that many come to this conclusion not because they have wisely discerned what really makes us live fully, but because they are simply buried alive.