C Cycle – 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time 22
Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What advantage does a man have in all his work. A generation goes and a generation comes but the earth remains forever. Everything continues as if we never existed, but all is wearisome, and a man cannot tell it. The eye sees but does not see, the ears are filled without hearing. Those are the words from the opening verses of Ecclesiastes, our first reading today. They remind me of another verse of scripture from the Book of Genesis, when Adam and Eve were cast from the garden. God tells them life would be full of drudgery. Man would earn his daily bread by the sweat from his brow and life will be filled with struggles and hardships (Gen.3:17-19). Woman’s lot was not going to be much better for she would bring forth children in pain and her husband would rule over her (Geb,3:16).
Now please understand this curse given to Adam and Eve was intended for and applies to each of us. Unmarried women do not escape the curse simply because they are not bearing children. We focus on the physical, but the curse has more to do with our hearts desires and how failure impacts us than having to do with physical pain. We have been set up by the sin of Adam. Therefore, God is telling us vanity of vanities drives us and it diverts our attention to what we should be seeking.
Even if we succeed, our success will seem empty and at some point, in our lives we will realize how far we have strayed from the life God intended us to live. Vanity of vanities will be the result of chasing the dream and finding it lacking in the end. The curse will impact us men by our response to not just successes but how we manage failure. The truth this is our weak spot and Satan knows it. The curse impacts women by their response to relationships and how those relationships will disappoint her, especially the relationship with those closest to her.
Simply put what we lost when Adam and Eve sinned has impacted how we live our lives. We men must strive to prove ourselves and do it better than anyone else. Our Eves stive to build relationships and feel loved, appreciated, and supported. When that does not happen, she is in pain.
This gospel message today is not about material possessions and how much we invested in our enjoying life to the fullest. It is not about how successful we have been in our careers, not about our golf handicap, or how well our kids are at achieving award after award. Do those things bring us joy, of course they do, and that joy is what makes life fun, exciting, and yes rewarding? Unfortunately, they become our gage of success, or we would not spend so much time and energy doing them. But where does God come into the equation of our life. It cannot just be on Sunday’s as we show off our perfect families and comply with the ritual duty of being a Christian.
Did you ever fail at something? It does not matter if you failed to hit that winning point at basketball, lost your job, lost your code of ethics, or lost a close friendship because you did something stupid. These are the things that haunt us because the damage was done the moment we failed. Did Adam and Eve feel the impact of their failure to obey a single desire God had for them and that was to eat from the tree of life not the tree of knowledge. We make choices each day. The choices may seem minor, but they have an impact on the totality of our lives. Especially those we look back upon and wish we could take back, but it is too late. Fear of failure haunts us, therefore it is no wonder we seek to find something that gives us some positive feedback telling us we did that thing well.
The problem is we seek that feedback from everything the world tells us will help us experience life to the fullest. We know what the world tells us we need. But have we ever given thought to what we want from our faith? What is it that we want from our relationship with God? On a base level we can say we want to know we are pleasing to him. Can we be pleasing to God and still disappoint him? Yes, if I think of my children there were many times, they disappointed me by their choices, but it never changed the fact they were my children and that filled me with great joy. Why would we believe God can ever be any less loving, caring or pleased with us even when we make wrong choices?
As husbands, wives, parents, teachers, friends, and counselors we can change how others view the world and their place in it. We do that daily by our own choices and decisions and how we place our relationship with God before anything else. There is not doubt the world today invites us to make choices which were no different than those of my generation. Yet, today’s world seems to have removed some of the barriers which made fulfilling those choices harder. The internet has opened the door to a secret world of sensuality and makes it seem so normal that if we do not join in something is wrong with us. Societal changes in sexuality, morals, work ethic, leisure and just a few of the issues confronting families today.
Vanity of vanities. Jesus offers us a better choice. One the world tells us is less rewarding because it is restrictive. If that is so, why did Jesus tell us he came to set us free. If our desiring the things of God more than those of the world is so off base, then why did Jesus tell us he came to bring us life. So, if all we are doing is vanity how do we discover what is not vanity of vanities.
Can we learn to be like Mary and listen instead of being like Martha and keep doing things to please God. This means we must do less of what Catholics do and more of what other Christians do and that is to read the scriptures. If we can do that, we can begin to recognize the voice of God as it comes to us and override the voice of the world.
Will we change, of course we will change but we will discover all those things we enjoy in the world are even more enjoyable when we discover God in them. Do any of us want to end up like the man in the gospel? I would rather put my trust in God’s plan for my happiness than in that which the world told me would make me happy.