EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - Fr. Randall P. Patterson
Today – the Scriptures tell us - we are to think differently – to think like Christ.
In The Brothers Karamazov, Russian novelist, Dostoyevsky, tells the tale of a guardian angel – who wept before God – because the woman in his charge - had been so wicked that she was stuck in hell. When God asked - if she had ever done anything good – the angel said - she had once given an onion to a beggar. God sent the angel to find the onion - to use it - to pull her out of hell. The angel succeeded in finding it - and then held the onion out to the woman – telling her to hold on for dear life. She was on her way – when other sinners grabbed her legs to hitch a ride. The woman shouted, “It’s my onion!” - and kicked them away. With that - the onion broke and she and her companions fell into oblivion.
Dostoyevsky’s tale is a commentary on today’s readings. Our Liturgy of the Word begins with the cry, “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” In other words – all things in this life are passing – why live as though they are lasting. The psalm response has the same message – and promises - we can find meaning - by asking God
“To teach us to number our days aright.”
In the Gospel – two brothers approach Jesus to settle their dispute over an inheritance – their father has died -
so nothing he ever possessed - is of any value to him – now. Notice how the brothers ignore the lesson of their father’s death and put all their energy - into acquiring what his death had rendered meaningless. One writer commented – these brothers are like a racecar driver – who decides to write a text message - while rounding the track – they are hurtling toward their ultimate destination - while concentrating on insignificant details.
We sometimes question the meaning of life. In his classic, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor – turns the question around and suggests it’s not ours to ask - what life means – life asks us - what meaning we will give it.
Jesus told the brothers, “Life does not consist in possessions.” They forgot about the inheritance - they had already received – the gift of life. Miraculously – naturally – their blood flowed – they breathed air – they spoke and could listen – they could dream and grow and enter relationships that transform everyone involved. Isn’t that - what life consists of – isn’t that what makes – meaning – possible beyond the grave?
Jesus asks us today - to think realistically about earthly things – like vanities, bequests, bigger barns and storage facilities. Frankly - whether knowingly or not echoes the teaching of Jesus - and invites people to picture themselves on their deathbed and to ask - from there - how they had given meaning to the one life they had received. That is the way we learn “to count our days aright.”