One day a wealthy father took his son on a trip to the countryside, with the firm purpose to show him how poor people can be. They spent a day and a night on the farm of a very poor family. When they got back from their trip, the father asked his son, ”How do you think was the trip, my son?” “Magnificent Dad,” replied the son. “Did you see how poor people could be?” “Yeah!” “And what did you learn?” the father asked. The son answered, “I saw that we have one dog at home, and they have four. We have a pool that is a hundred meters long; they have a stream that has no end. We have fifty imported lamps in our garden, but they have countless shining stars. Our terrace reaches to the front yard; they have a whole horizon.” When the little boy was finishing, his father was speechless. His son concluded, “Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are!”
A couple of times in my homilies I have mentioned a book by Rabi Harold Kushner. After his best seller, “When Bad Things Happen to People”, he wrote another book entitled, “When All That You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough.” The whole point of the book is that the more you run after happiness, the less you get. What happens when all that you’ve ever wanted isn’t enough? The first reading has the answer. “Vanity of vanities!, All things are vanity!
Ecclesiastes is a wise person’s reflections on life. In today’s passage the author reminds us that nothing can survive death: no success, reputation, gain or profit will last beyond a person’s lifetime. Scholars say it represents an era of crisis in biblical history, a period of self-questioning; and that through it came to a deepening of the spirit. For the same purpose, such a pessimistic book continues to find a place in the Bible. It is aimed at deepening of the Spirit. The need for meaning in life is not biological nor psychological but religious. The absence of it results in frustration. You know that we are capable of ruining our health, peace of mind and the peace of our homes for nothing.
Jesus takes up this theme in the gospel reading. They appear to be the same, but there is a difference. According to the first reading, the rich man is foolish because he “must leave all to someone who has not worked for it.” In other words, he is foolish to have worked, because he cannot enjoy all the fruits of his labor himself. Jesus said the rich man is foolish because he does not “amass for God,” or “make himself rich in the sight of God,” or “build up treasure in heaven.” He does not invest for heaven.
How does one calculate one’s wealth? Usually, we calculate it by checking how much we have, but today’s gospel tells us we should calculate it by checking how much we have given away. That is why Rousseau said, “When a man dies he clutches in his hands only that which he has given away during his lifetime. Merrymaking is not the solution to death; a meaningful life is. Fun is the spice of life but not the main course of it.
– Fr. Abe