EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, C
VANITY UPON VANITY: ALL IS VANITY
The slogan, "Vanity upon vanity", is about the most popular in the scripture known to both Christians and non Christians alike. Even though almost everyone recites the simple saying, it looks elusive that everything in this world is indeed vanity. I'm going to use some practical examples to illustrate my experiences of what the wise Qoheleth is saying to us today.
About three months ago, I lost one of my good friends, a classmate and fellow priest from Nigeria. He had cardiac arrest and died within minutes. I was not convinced when I heard that he was dead. This guy had a very functional Facebook page. I went to his Facebook page and said "Hi". The Facebook page was still up and running. But no response came. I kept visiting this Facebook page to keep my delusive dreams of him alive. The page ran for months, until his sister took it down. He was gone. So, Facebook is VANITY.
My mom died in 2008. After my mom's death, her phone number was still on. We did not throw away her SIM card. From time to time I would dial my mom's number and it would ring, but no answer. At some point, my sister took over the line and still uses it till this moment. It was initially registered with mom's name. The number is on till now, but mom is gone. That means, the mobile phone, house phone, intercom, etc, we use is, VANITY.
In May, 2015, one of my good family friends lost their husband and dad. This guy was one of the well read lawyers in our state. He was professor of Law, dean of the faculty of law in the university. He was to be made president of the college before he became sick- diagnosed of cancer of the intestine. But he kept struggling and was still doing his research work while on the sick bed. Eventually, he died at 54. When I spoke with the wife a few days after the funeral, she sounded really distraught. And she told me that the husband's plaque and certificates hanging all over the wall in their house were tormenting her. That means, certificates, awards and human honors that we acquire in life are all VANITY.
Just think about it. That nicely decorated shoe closet in your home. That beautiful, rich wardrobe. Those elegant television, video, computer, electronic gadgets. That rich book shelf. That magnificent house. That very sophisticated car. That latest iPhone, iPad. That costly Mac apple laptop. Those your bachelors, masters, ph.d. degrees. Those Twitter, yahoo, Gmail, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn and other social media accounts, that keep you restless. That huge savings in your Bank of America, M&T, chase banks, etc. Are these all vanity? The wise man says of all of them, "Vanity upon vanity, all is vanity".
Often times, people panic at the feelings of dying and leaving their possessions behind. Someone imagines what will happen once he/she's no more. He sets his heart on earthly things and feels internal anxiety. Ecclesiastes says of such person, "All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation, even at night his mind is not at rest".
Once when I was a hospital chaplain, I visited a patient in one of the hospitals around here. As I got into her room, the patient seemed very upset. I sat by the bedside and began to converse with her. She lamented how she was going to miss three shows she had planned to attend within the week. This lady brought out all the tickets she had secured ahead of the concerts and laid them on the table for me. She was sad that she was going to stay in the hospital for over a week. She didn't know how sick she was, rather worried about missing three shows which she already paid for. Unfortunately, this lady's biopsy came out real bad. She had organ failure and degenerated in matter of minutes. She died in the hospital a few days after. The tickets, shows, all is vanity.
Christ uses the example of the man seeking a share in the family inheritance to teach us in the gospel. The rich fool has made his wealth. His barn is full. His storage is equipped. He tells himself: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time" (Lk.12:18-20). We're not told that this man committed any other offense. His only crime was that he hoarded his possessions. He let his wealth take over his entire being. He removed God from the picture. He died leaving all those plans and possessions behind. And Christ warns us, "So it is when someone stores up treasure for himself instead of becoming rich in the sight of God" (Lk.12:21).
What then is not vanity? Or is there any crime in working for our sustenance? Is it bad to work hard after all? The answer is no. Remember, Saint Paul said that anyone who did not work should not eat. Labor or work is an essential part of human existence, for from labor humanity survives. The psalmist affirms, "By the labor of their hands they shall eat" (Ps.128:2). It is good to work and to eat. In fact, the man who works hard is respected by his family and friends. Vanity is when we become slaves of what we have, when we idolize our possessions.
Saint Paul enjoins us to "seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God". But how do we seek the things that are above while being in the world? He gives us the answer thus: "Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed that is idolatry. Stop lying to one another..." (Col.3:8-9). The key is to recognize that "there is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everything" (Col.3:11).
Dear friends, if we recognize that Christ is everything, then we dedicate everything to him. Our academic achievements are possible because of Christ. Our family progress is because of Christ. Our safe travels are because of Christ. Our financial breakthroughs are because of Christ. Our recovery from sickness or not being sick at all is because of Christ. Our achievements in sports are because of Christ. Our physical or intellectual beauty is because of Christ. Even our political activities should be centered around God. Sometimes, people lose sight of these. They become narcissistic, arrogant, selfish, greedy and pompous. That's the example of the rich fool in today's scripture. "In prosperity", the bible says, "people lose their good sense, they become no better than dumb animals. So they go on in their self-assurance, right up to the end they are content with their lot" (Ps.49:12-13).
We have to keep God at the center of our lives. We have to be wise in the use of material things. We possess what we own, they don't possess us. Humility, prudence, modesty, meekness, and fear of God are the virtues that help us to put God in the best and proper perspective. He is everything, and he is in everything. Outside of God, everything else is VANITY.