A couple of months ago it was reported that Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia sued Forbes magazine in a London court for reporting his fortune as $20 billion. According to the prince, that is $9.6 billion less than his actual wealth.
Possibly many people found this a laughing matter because most people believe they would be very happy with a billion dollars – or a million – and would not be bothered by whether the extent of their wealth was accurately known or not. I suspect these notions may not be entirely true.
This Sunday’s scripture readings – The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – shed light on common conceptions about abundance. In the Gospel Reading (Luke 12:13-21) Jesus says, “Watch out; be alert against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions”.
Actually, in this statement, Jesus is saying: “Don’t be hasty in your assumptions; greed is powerful and multifaceted; abundance and materialism do not, of themselves, translate into a meaningful life”
In the First Reading from Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 the Teacher – or “Preacher”, or “Gatherer” – Qohelet, in Hebrew – laments the vanity of all of life’s restlessness in pursuit of all that we consider life’s goals..The Hebrew word translated “vanity” – “hebel” – literally means vapor; wind; or breath; something without physical form. Metaphorically hebel are things that cannot be understood physically or mentally; hence, they are of no substance.
When life is preoccupied with these pursuits, life itself becomes like them – hebel. That is the message of the First Reading and it is the message of the Gospel Reading: Life is more than the hebel that surrounds it.
The Epistle Reading (Colossians 3:1-11) frames the message in these words: “Set your minds on things that are above…” Similarly, the psalmist (Psalm 49:1-11) cautions “those who put their trust in their goods, and boast of their great riches”.
The question that one needs to wrestle with is this: What is driving your life?