Saturday, July 31, 2010

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2010: What's It's True Value?

The readings for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary time begin with words from the opening chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes (twelve short chapters).  Who possesses any information or knowledge about the writing?  Few, I know for sure.  So, a little history lesson is in order before even attempting to see the relationship of the first reading to the others in today's liturgy.

Ecclesiastes is a Greek translation of a name Qoheleth.  It means, some suggest, "one who convokes an assembly.  Obviously the word ecclesiastical, for example, is something related to an assembly as the early church gatherings were called.  The book is not a collection of sermons or speeches.  It is a treatise on the vanity of all things.

What the writer hopes to convey to readers and hearers of his words relates to human life, "What's It All About, Alfie?"  What God had planned for each person coming into the world and for humanity as a whole, the writer suggests, is not all that clear.  Life has been described by the scripture commentators as enigmatic, too complex for the heart and mind of humankind.  Nothing seems to result in happiness.  Life is often overwhelmed by suffering regardless of one's financial status.  Living each day has one major gift to us:  monotony.  However, the writer does acknowledge that there is some good derived from what we find in our experience so long as we take time to offer thanks to our Creator.  Qoheleth believes that genuine wisdom can only be found by letting the light of faith enter the mind, heart and soul.

Naturally the writer suggests that divine retribution, a doctrine attempted by other Old Testament writers, may not look possible at the time he lived and wrote.  Nonetheless he seems to indicate that there will be a true understanding of that doctrine, divine retribution, when Jesus is teaching his followers and us about future life.

Qoheleth is understood as literary name for the writer.  Because he his writings exhibit teachings of popular wisdom, most people suspected that it was King Solomon who authored the book.  Qoheleth is called "David's son, king of Jerusalem."  This further led  people to suspect Solomon.  If nothing else, it afforded the writing greater standing in the community, in the assembly.  The style of Hebrew used in the book suggests that the composition occurred about three centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.

The three reading for today's liturgy do carry a common theme.  Qoheleth, Paul and Jesus are calling us to remember that life is indeed a genuine challenge to us.  It is a challenge to human instinct to seek possessions, to seek honors, to build up a feathered nest, a personal kingdom.

In the gospel Jesus reminds his hearers "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions."  St. Paul writes to the Colossians "Put to death the parts of you that are earthly ...."  Qoheleth reminds his hearers "For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?

What these writers are asking us to remember is this:  don't let possessions of whatever kind -- person, place or thing -- take up residence in your heart and soul.  Don't let yourself become the save to these possessions.