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Ordinary Time 18 (C)
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Readings for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1. Ecclesiastes 1, 2 and 2, 21-23

  • Vanity of vanities!  My wife is convinced of these words, and I have learned from her.  Also, I am getting old.  We have accumulated many books and old journals and CD’s, and of course saved up for our retirement.  The church and all its members need to hear this reflection on our human habits.  All things are vanity!  I can build my intensity through the three expressions to the final word.
  • Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill.  The preacher sets up the riddle in a kind of admiration.  Then he adds a punch line that I need to speak in an objective commentary, but not cynically.  To another who has not labored over it, he must leave property.  Let me remember that we are in the presence of the God who emptied self.  On the human plane the ending seems absurd.  On the divine plane it is the beginning that is ridiculous.  What did we intend with our industry in the first place?  Let me criticize the foible.
  • The Gospel passage criticizes anyone who builds material wealth and trusts in it.  There we can see a certain fulfillment of this commentary: What profit?  All the Gospels put these words in the mouth of Jesus.  The more we read the words of the Jewish inheritance, the more we must recognize our own inheritance.
  • I listen to the hard words toil, anxiety, hardship, grief.  It was not easy to amass such a show of wealth.  How many around me show the deep furrows of worry and the sleepless nights, and to what end?  The speaker is not narrating an episode of Lifestyles but rather offering a close-up of the man of means when all his admirers have retired for the evening.  Even at night his mind is not at rest.  Can I convey a sense of that endless labor?
  • As I look upon the congregation I am not judging, but looking for nodding heads, because we have lived this frustration far too long.  My ministry will serve to bring it to the surface where we can judge it for what it is.
  • Central point: This also is vanity.  The Hebrew word means wind or air, and with my voice I can imitate that sense of emptiness.
  • Message for our assembly: How often do we consider the end of our lives and the reason that we accumulate so many material things?  Are we too burdened down to march in pilgrimage?
  • I will challenge myself: To bring out the irony for my listeners, in a way that will make them perk up their ears.

2. Colossians 3, 1-5 and 9-11

  • If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above.  The reading begins on a high pitch and I need to be ready.  My “if” will sound more like “since.” 
  • The theme of the passage is that we ought to live on a different plane because of our turning around, the radical change that Christ brought into our lives.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ. 
  • We are dealing in everyday sensations that everyone can see, and a reality that is hidden to nearly everyone.  In our conversations before and after this mass we will be commenting on what we can see, and probably not give a thought to God’s final purposes for us: You too will appear with Christ in glory. 
  • Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly.  Now begins the practical exhortation, for us to identify with Christ in the way we conduct our lives.  I will let the words envelop everyone like a surging wave.  The litany of unacceptable conduct of the old self is meant as the contrast to something positive, the new self, renewed in the image of its creator. 
  • The greed that is idolatry echoes the themes of the other two readings.  It comes at the end of the list of earthly behaviors, and I will treat it as a climax.
  • Here there is not Greek and Jew  Let me say them as if the divisions that the apostle saw in Asia have lived on to our own time with new names.  And they do endure; our public division over immigration law is witness to this.  I am not going over some dusty op-ed piece that lost its relevance long ago. 
  • Climax: When Christ your life appears.  It is the Christ for whom “we wait in joyful hope.” 
  • The message for our assembly: The words sound very much like those of the Easter Vigil.  Do we feel something of that mystique today as we hear them?  Are we aware of our identity as believers filled with the spirit of Christ?
  • I will challenge myself: To believe what I read, and to believe that it is the most important thing my listeners will hear today.  My own enthusiasm as I read will rub off on them.

Gospel. Luke 12, 13-21

  • Take care to guard against all greed.  This comes from the man who came emptied from God and knew about what he was speaking.  He said it not out of cynicism or envy, but from his identification with God.  That is the tone that I must discover for my reading.  Greed was a great menace to the communities known to Luke, and it has gone a long way to undermining our own church’s credibility in so many countries.
  • There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.  I can hear the echo of the first reading, and I will use my powers to suggest a haunting image, that all will be doomed soon enough. 
  • This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns.  It could be an interview in  the Financial Times.  Let me capture the measured voice of the business reporter for whom this report is the most factual and undeniable anyone could say.
  • Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years.  Rest, eat, drink, be merry!  Our country is filled with these thoughts, and so are our churches.  Let me repeat the words in a soothing way, as if I am a comforter.
  • You fool!  I will try for a mocking sound in the voice of God, as if God does not care a whit about the things you have prepared and to whom will they belong?
  • Central theme: We can’t take it with us.  So why do we worry so much about it?
  • Message for our assembly: Guess where Christ is today.  Did we look there?
  • I will challenge myself: To capture the earnestness of Christ in my voice. 

From Word to Eucharist: If we have listened to today’s word, we have begun to break free of the slavery to material goods and to empty lives.  Let us encourage each other as we eat this simple meal together.

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