Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23
Psalm 90:3-6, 12-14, 17
2) Col 3:1-5, 9-11
Gospel: Lk 12:13-21
If the biblical writers could be transported to the 21st century and given the opportunity to make movies, what kind would they make?
I can imagine the authors of Exodus filming epic thrillers with casts of thousands. Mark might create intense docudramas. Ezekiel and the author of Revelation would gravitate toward animation studios.
And Qoheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes? I picture him directing noir films, along the lines of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing,” in which the main characters make a killing in a heist from a racetrack only to end up killing each other.
Qoheleth is a master observer of unsatisfying outcomes. He has an eye for the ways that inputs and outputs seem unreasonably related in life. Hard work may yield small results. Pursuing success may make us miserable (see today’s first reading). Achieving it may not make us happy either. We may pass from the scene, leaving our acquisitions to someone else to enjoy (also today’s reading).
Often enough, Qoheleth notes, the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong but “a time of misfortune comes to all” to everyone. Much in the world is absurd — the meaning of his trademark term “vanity,” which he applies liberally. Indeed, as a whole, “All things are vanity!” Qoheleth’s view of the world is definitely noir.
In many ways Jesus took a different view. Yet he made some Qoheleth-like observations. After a disaster in Jerusalem, Jesus told his disciples that the people killed by the collapse of the Siloam tower were no worse than anyone else (Lk 13:4-5). “Vanity!” Qoheleth would mutter.
Jesus’ remark that “sufficient for a day is its own evil” (Mt 6:34) sounds like something Qoheleth might have said. And like Qoheleth, Jesus does not think wealth will make us happy, one reason being that “moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal” (Mt 6:19). Another reason is that we might not live to enjoy it (today’s Gospel).
Yet if Jesus too has something of a noir view of the world, the conclusion he draws is bright. We do not have to build our whole life, make our only home, in a world of unsatisfying outcomes. Jesus advises us to direct our energies toward God’s kingdom, to life in the new heavens and new earth that God will ultimately bring about, where “vanity!” is reversed, happiness is assured.
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Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.