Breath of the Spirit: Reckoning with our Resurrected Reality
So much of our cultural ethic in the United States concerns work. This can put us at odds with the preaching of Jesus. We can mistakenly think that we must strive to attain what God has freely given. We might view this gift as a relief, but it can also be profoundly disorienting. Today’s reflection addresses the confusion this can cause and in so doing invites us to reckon with our resurrected reality.
Sunday July 31st, 2022: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Luke 12: 13-21
Reckoning with our Resurrected Reality
A reflection by Ann Penick
In the reading from Ecclesiastes, the first verse “Vanity of Vanities! All is vanity!” sets the tone for the whole book. The first verse also assigns the author as “the son of David” or “Koheleth” in the Jewish Scriptures. In the past, some thought that Solomon authored this text, but it appears to have been written after him – when Aramaic became the common language – sometime after the 6th century BCE. This one of the Wisdom Books. The word Ecclesiastes comes from the Greek word, ekklesia, meaning “a public assembly.” The Hebrew word Koheleth means a person who is qualified to address a public assembly.
“Vanity of Vanities! All is vanity!” proclaims that life itself is fleeting, short and with little substance. People profit nothing from their work, generations come and go, the sun rises and sets, the wind blows where it will, rivers run to the sea, but the sea is not full, all things are full of exhaustion beyond burnout, people who died long ago are not remembered, nor should we expect to be remembered. Wow! My first thought, as a licensed mental health clinician, is this author has possible clinical depression and needs prescription psychiatric medication and/or some talk therapy! Having said that … let’s continue.
Colossae was a small Phrygian city near Laodicea and about 100 miles from Ephesus in Asia Minor. The Letter to the Colossians was likely written by Paul and his co-minister Timothy, (Col 1:1) because their missionary, Epaphras, (Col 1:7) reported to them that the church community of Colossae was falling into serious false teachings and negative practices.
The reading from Colossians talks about interrelationships between our participation in the resurrection and our new conduct in Jesus Christ. It explores what it means to set our minds on things above, enabling us to experience the true joy God wants to share. Our baptism incorporates us into Christ’s resurrection, and therefore we live in a resurrected reality. Everything else in Colossians flows from this chapter, this insight. We are to seek things that reflect our resurrected life in Christ. We are no longer to be oriented and shaped by things of this world. Paul says these things existed in our earthly nature. We are better able to serve God when we set our eyes on this resurrected reality. Anything belonging to our old ways of life needs to be “cut out.” We now live a new life that is becoming more like Christ each day.
The gospel starts with a member of the crowd listening to Jesus and requesting Jesus to arbitrate between his brother and him concerning an inheritance. Jesus uses this request to preach about the problem of wealth in the context of our life as disciples, where being close to God is our priority in life, and attachment to material wealth reflects anxiety and fear which stifles our loving.
When we hear this parable in our own context, we might ask: “Well, why is the rich landowner called a fool? After all, this person is wise and responsible and has a thriving farming business. The land has produced a lot and this person does not have enough storage space in the current barns. So, what’s wrong with building bigger barns to store all the grain surplus and goods to have enough savings set aside for the future and for retirement? Isn’t this what we are encouraged to work for? Isn’t it wise and responsible to save for the future?” Of course it is! However, the landowner, so focused on his possessions, is not considering a reckoning with God!
The rich landowner in this parable is a fool not because of attaining wealth or saving for the future, but because this person appears to live only for the self and in the belief that life can be secured with possessions. The only person this landowner refers to is “I,” “me,” and “myself.” The land has produced so much, yet this person expresses no sense of gratitude to God or to the workers who helped plant and harvest this bumper crop. This person has more grain and goods in storage than will ever be needed; yet there seems to be no thought of sharing this produce with others, no thought of what Love might ask in this moment. The landowner does not see that life is not their own to secure—their life belongs to God.
The landowner learns the hard way what the author of Ecclesiastes realized—you can’t take it with you. All that we work so hard for in life will someday end up in someone else’s hands! And yet, some of us – and perhaps at times, all of us – are tempted by materialism. No matter how much we have, we are tempted to focus on what we do not have. We are constantly pelted by marketing meant to convince us of all the stuff we need to be prettier, richer, more successful, or more popular. The path of least resistance can lead us to feel that we are never quite enough.
Like the rich landowner we are tempted to think more money or more stuff will make us secure. Sooner or later, we must learn that no amount of wealth or property can secure our lives. No amount of stuff can protect us from disease, tragedy, unhealthy relationships, or from a family falling apart. Indeed, wealth and property can be part of what drives a wedge between our family members.
No amount of wealth can secure our lives. Jesus repeatedly warns that wealth can get in the way of our relationship with God and others. Note: God does not tell us not to save for retirement or our future needs. God does not tell us not to “eat, drink, and be merry,” or to not enjoy what has been given us. Remember, Jesus spent time eating and drinking with people and enjoying life. But Jesus was also clear about where his true security was. Jesus realized that he could not secure his own life, paradoxically, because it was already secured by God. Ultimately that is what the resurrection reveals – and the truth with which this gospel asks us to reckon.
It comes down to priorities. Am I putting my trust in God’s securing love, or am I working to make sure that I can always feel in control? Am I free to be generous with what I have been given, or do I not trust in Love’s abundance? Am I investing my gifts in a better world, or am I mostly invested in me? We are stewards of our lives and our stuff while we are on earth. We are coworkers in God’s vineyard.
It might be a difficult concept to grasp but reflect on this: Because all that we are and all that we have belongs to God, our future is secure. That is the ultimate reckoning of the resurrection: we need not fight to gain what God has already given. As Jesus tells us, “Do not be afraid…for God is pleased to welcome you into the Reign of Love” (Luke 12:32).
Ann Penick is originally from the Chicago area. She and her husband, Jim, live in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Ann was ordained a priest with Roman Catholic Womenpriests in 2011. Ann has been serving the faith communities of Dignity Washington and Northern Virginia Dignity as one of their presiders since 2017. She also serves as one of the board members of DignityUSA. In addition, she has been pastoring a faith community of young families in Washington, DC since 2013.