Updated: Jul 30, 2022
I borrowed the title of this reflection from Cardinal Sarah’s book, “God or Nothing.” While sharing the trajectory of his journey, the Cardinal from Ourous, Guinea, says, “In fact, there is only one steadfast point in this world to guarantee man’s balance and steadiness. Everything else is moving, changing, ephemeral, and uncertain. Calvary is the highest point in the world, from which we can see everything with new eyes, the eyes of faith, love, and martyrdom: the eyes of Christ” (p.25). Here is the great message from the readings of today; either God or nothing.
This wise Ecclesiastes sets the tone this weekend by challenging us to assess our understanding of earthly riches as he says, “Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” Vanity, in Hebrew, means “Hebel” which denotes “vapor” or “breath.” This implies something which cannot be apprehended or grasped with human hands. “Hebel,” for Qoheleth, signifies that futility that defies human reasoning. Everything in this world is vanity as long as it can disappear just like vapor. So, Ecclesiastes asks, “For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?”
Maybe we can start with some questions that touch on identity and goals: Who are you? What have you got? How do you control what you have, or does what you have control you? What is your vision about life, possession, and possibly about dying? How would you describe what constitutes your source of happiness? Have you imagined if that were to be no more and how it would affect you? Do you consult your ego, believing that things start with and end with you? Who/what is in control of your life?
Jesus helps us to answer these questions with the parable of the rich fool in today’s gospel. The first thing to note is that his response comes as a reaction to the conflict between two brothers -about inheritance. The man’s perception of Jesus is that of a mediator in material terms. Maybe this man and his brother had been in court, now he sees Jesus, a teacher with great influence, hence, wants to take advantage of the opportunity. Jesus reminds him that he is not just an arbitrator, but rather that there is a deeper lesson about knowing what matters on the journey of life. For this man as for many of us, the problem is more about our mindset and attitude towards the things of this world. Do not let earthly things take away the joy of knowing and serving God.
Therefore, Jesus presents this parable -the rich fool invests his time and energy not just in laboring but in believing that his possession is the ultimate security of his life. He loses consciousness of being a mere mortal because he gets blinded by his possession. So shall it be for anyone who places his trust on material wellbeing, “‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’” (Lk. 12:20).
Recently, the famous American boxer Mike Tyson was granted an interview during which he sounded very pathetic. Mike Tyson’s message aligns with today’s readings as he says: "I always tell people: they think money’s gonna make them happy, they’ve never had money before — when you have a lot of money, you can’t expect nobody to love you. How am I gonna confess my love to you when you have $500 billion? The false sense of security. You believe nothing can happen. You don’t believe the banks could collapse. You believe that you’re invincible when you have a lot of money, which isn’t true. That’s why I always say money is a false sense of security.” Can you imagine that coming from once the most physically strong man in the world? I once experienced a friend whose house was gutted by fire including his Ph.D. certificate and all he worked for. Not one pin was saved from the fire accident. This friend told me then that he realized that all things are worthless after that incident. Vanity upon vanity!
A fundamental problem in life is mostly about our way of thinking. The rich fool’s mindset controls and informs his thought process. It is the mindset that makes us feel insecure, especially if we rely on the self or on earthly possessions. The mindset creates imagination, makes us believe we’re invincible, and that the more we acquire, the safer we become. This is the rich man’s problem in today’s gospel, “He asked himself, ‘What shall I do?’” That “asking himself” is where the problem began. His mindset is distorted by a false sense of self that erroneously believes that his little piece of land is the entire world. He forgets that God brings forth a bountiful harvest from the whole gamut of creation and gives him that much as a blessing.
In Psychology, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is a popular therapy approach that identifies that mental and physical health issues arise from the ways people think and behave. CBT upholds that every problem has its symptom from negative cognition and perception of reality. The rich fool, for instance, shows symptoms of narcissism by focusing on his ego. His “I” dominates his world. Most likely, his farm is the best farm. His barn is the best. His store has the best food. He is the best man in the world. Imagine if this man had been married and what his relationship would look like. Most likely, he would either be in control, or nothing would work, because he only consults himself.
Today, Jesus invites us to challenge our mindsets. Make your mind the mind of Christ and know that everything will pass away. Things can be today and tomorrow they are no more. If your mind is healthy, you will know that you’re only mortal. If your mind is healthy, you understand that God makes things happen and that your success is a blessing from God. As a child of God, Saint Paul reminds you to seek what is above, to place your trust in God. Relying on the self gives rise to greed, avarice, envy, jealousy, and rivalry. Anxiety and loss of sleep can arise from a false sense of self.
It is either God or nothing. Ask God to lead and direct you. Ask God to bless your efforts. Let us learn from the wise Qoheleth today that relying on earthly things is vanity. Let us learn from the mistakes of the man in the gospel that being rich in what matters to God is key to healthy living. Shun those things that create a false sense of security in your life, and you will know authentic happiness. Everything does not end with you and what you have. Either God or nothing!
Readings: 1st- Ecc. 1:2; 2:21-23; 2nd- Col. 3:1-5, 9-11; Gospel- Lk. 12:13-21