Living the Gospel – August 4, 2019

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Famous as it is, I have often felt the real meaning of the first reading was escaping me. I think my stumbling block has been trying to understand it with the wrong definition of vanity. Here it doesn’t refer to conceit, the meaning I most often associate with it.

The alternative definition, one of uselessness, having no value, or marked with futility, fits better. An older meaning would be foolishness. However, the original word was the Hebrew hebel, which could be better translated as insubstantial, a puff of air, or something of no lasting significance. So when I reread this first passage and substitute a more accurate word, it all starts to make more sense. The author (Qoheleth isn’t a name, but rather an occupation: preacher or teacher) is saying that the things of life we tend to value, are not of lasting importance.

I think that is the same message Jesus is sending when he refuses to act as judge and order one brother to share the inheritance with the other. “Who am I to be your arbitrator? Yet just two weeks ago we read where he did just that when he told Martha not to begrudge her sister her choices. So why the difference? I suppose the answer to that is in the parable Jesus tells. The things we store up like money and property are worthless because they aren’t eternal. He won’t judge between the brothers because they are talking about the tangible things of everyday living. But Mary and Martha‘s division is over their spiritual roles. That isn’t vanity because it is a choice that lasts into eternity.

Could it be that it doesn’t make any difference to the Father if a person is rich or poor, whether or not they leave money or insurance enough for their family to survive when they die? Could it be that who we are, our social position and our occupation aren’t important to living as a Christian? Is that what Paul is saying, in the second reading when he tells the Colossians to think about what is above rather than what is on earth?

I think I hear Jesus telling me to focus not on the worldly aspects of everyday living, but on the eternal treasures, because that’s what is really important. The rest is transitory and of no real value for me in the grand scheme of life.

Linda Crowley