Studying God’s Word

Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Luke 12:13-21 [114C]
In the Gospel reading for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus warns against the dangers of greed. Jesus invites would-be followers not to place too much emphasis on personal possessions and monetary wealth.
As Jesus continues on his journey to Jerusalem, someone from the crowd makes a request of him: “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Rather than get involved in family matters between siblings and inheritance rights, Jesus offers two responses. Jesus’ first immediate response is to give some simple advice, a warning against greed and the desire for material possessions. Jesus’ second and more measured response is to tell a parable to the crowd. This is the second parable that Jesus delivers on his journey to Jerusalem. Throughout the travel narrative, Jesus will deliver a total of twelve parables, nine of which are unique to the Gospel of Luke. The parable of the rich fool in today’s Gospel reading is one of the parables found only in Luke.
Discipleship in the Gospel of Luke carries a very clear set of expectations. Among other things, a disciple must keep a proper attitude toward wealth and possessions. This is a prominent Lucan theme, more so than any other Evangelist (see, for example, today’s reading, 12:13-21; 12:22-34; 14:25-38; 16:19-31; 18:18-23; 19:1-10). 
Jesus sought to challenge the crowd in his presentation of the parable of the rich fool. For Jesus’ ancient audience, the rich man would have been judged as foolish and even dishonorable because he chose not to share his surplus wealth with others who would have granted him public praise and earned him an honorable reputation as a generous patron to others within his community. But Jesus discourages this typical reaction by inviting the crowd to go beyond the desire for material possessions and the acquisition of a higher honor rating; seek instead the spiritual treasure offered by God—eternal life through his Son.
The first reading is taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes. Thought to have been written in the third century BC, Ecclesiastes belongs to Israel’s wisdom tradition. The reading for today reflects Israel’s long-standing tradition on the futility of material possessions: “Vanity of vanities! All things [i.e., possessions] are vanity!” Vanity here means emptiness or futility. For the author of Ecclesiastes, the “toil and anxiety of heart” that is spent on the pursuit of material possessions is simply not worth it.
In the second reading, Paul picks up on this wisdom tradition in his letter to the Christian community in Colossae. He tells the Colossians to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” For Paul, what is “on earth” can only bring futility and emptiness; but what “is above” (Christ) brings spiritual fulfillment. “Earthly” things, such as “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry” bring only self-destruction and personal suffering.
From the perspective of the ancient Israelites, American Catholics live in a land of unimaginable material possessions and wealth. The readings for today are an important reminder to us not to let material possessions and wealth be our ultimate concern. We should seek rather God’s spiritual possessions.

Dr. Daniel J. Scholz