domenica 31 luglio 2016

«Vanitas vanitatum»

Today’s liturgy is about the right attitude we should have towards material goods. Someone asks Jesus to arbitrate in the dispute between him and his brother over an inheritance. This kind of mediation was frequently requested from rabbis; and Jesus was a rabbi. So, there is nothing strange in this request. Moreover, it could be considered a good work to bring back peace in a family. And yet Jesus declines the invitation, “Who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” If ever there is a judge, that is exactly Jesus; but he refuses to play this role in connection with a quarrel about money. Why? Because money is not what matters in life: “Life does not consist in possessions.” Jesus came into the world to show us what really matters; not to do justice in issues of no account. Even because, behind the demand for justice, often there is hidden an inordinate desire for wealth: “Take care to guard against all greed.”

To show us that “life does not consist in possessions,” Jesus tells us the parable of the rich fool. Notice: the bountiful harvest is not the result of special efforts by the rich man; it just depends on nature. Therefore, the rich man is neither to praise nor to blame for this. Nor should he be blamed because he asks himself what to do with all these goods, and decides to build larger barns to store his grain. There is nothing wrong in doing that. Material goods are to be kept and managed correctly. It would be irresponsible to let all those goods be ruined. So where is the rich man wrong? His fault is in putting his trust exclusively in material possessions, as if life depended on them. One might also have vast riches, but if he realizes that they are not all in life, that they are just a means to live and to do good, that we could lose them suddenly and, in any case, we shall leave them when we die, there is no problem. The problem is when we are under the illusion that, with many material goods, we can rest easy, as if we should have problems no more, as if life depended on those goods. In my opinion, the great sin of the rich man is what he says to himself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” The only concern of this man now is to rest, eat, drink and be merry. This last verb is the same we find in another parable of Luke’s gospel, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: even in that case, the rich man has no other troubles than to eat, drink and enjoy life. Don’t you think that this is also our ideal? It seems that nowadays for most of people, especially for the youth, the only thing to which aspire is to enjoy themselves, to have fun, without worrying over problems around them. But God says to the rich man, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you.” It is terrible; but, once in a while, it can be useful to be put in front of the seriousness of life. Life is not a game; it is a gift given to us, so that we may get rich in what matters to God. All the rest is vanity of vanities (vanitas vanitatum), as the first reading says.

In the second reading maybe we find the deepest reason why we should not be attached to material goods. If you have noticed, Saint Paul tells us to put to death a series of vices present in our lives: “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,” and then he adds another vice, which would seem the worst: “and the greed that is idolatry.” You see? Greed is more serious than other vices; and the reason is because greed is a kind of idolatry. This means that material goods can take the place of God; they become an idol and we — maybe without realizing — worship them instead of the true God. May the Lord deliver us from this idolatry and teach us — as we prayed last Sunday — to “use the good things that pass in such a way as to hold fast even now to those that ever endure.”