Saved from Vanity and Chasing after Wind
4 August 2019 –– Proper 13, Lectionary 18
To understand the laws of inheritance found in the Torah, often an heir would come to a religious leader or teacher, like Jesus, when a question about how to divide an inheritance came up. Jewish law allowed for the religious leader to be the arbiter and demand that an inheritance be distributed equitably. However, Jesus would not allow himself to be triangulated in this family argument, but took the opportunity to warn this man and those who were listening about the danger of greed. . . .
Jesus then tells the parable of the rich fool. This man, having produced more than his barns could hold, finds himself in a dilemma: what to do with this abundance? Rather than sharing it with others, he decides to tear down his existing barn to build a bigger one and then rest on his laurels, never having to worry about the future. However, God had other plans—the man would die that night. Just as the Teacher in Ecclesiastes concluded, the man died before enjoying his bounty. We are left to wonder who would take care of his abundance now. –– Carrie L. Lewis La Plante
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Although scholars place the wisdom literature of Ecclesiastes between 250 and 167 B.C.E., the question as to the meaning of life’s toil is a very contemporary struggle of our congregations. The Teacher. . . provides a rather despairing assessment of life. . . . Verse 11 of chapter 2 has the pivotal confession, “All was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” To top it all off, the Teacher realizes that ultimately, his toil will be turned over to another at his death (who may be undeserving and foolish with it), and he will not be able to reap the good that he sows. What is the point of straining at my work everyday? For what does my labor, and by extension, my life, count? We are left to wonder. –– Carrie L. Lewis La Plante
[This reading] reminds us that our baptism has significance for our lives and should affect the way in which we behave. We have died to the life that worships the things of this earth and that indulges in idolatrous vices (vv 5–8). Rather we have been raised with Christ and are “hidden in Christ with God” (v 3). Therefore, we have been given a new life that is Christ-centered, and are to be clothed with the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love, and peace. When we have allowed the vices to die and concentrate on the virtues of our life in Christ, we are then able to live with one another in the image of the creator, as a family where race, ritual, culture and social divisions no longer matter. As Christians, we are not immune to the trials and temptations of this earthly life. However. . . we have been given defenses to face those snares. Serious spiritual formation heeds this advice. –– Carrie L. Lewis La Plante
Carrie L. Lewis La Plante is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Eldridge, Iowa.
Homily Service 40, no. 9 (2007): 3-12.