Hidden in God
Eternal life, the rich fool, and vanity: Peter Gallagher SJ guides us through the Scripture readings of this first Sunday of August.
The life you have is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3). Jesus is preparing us for eternal life. He is shaping everything we do and everything that happens to us to make us fit for heaven. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things not on the things that are on earth (Colossians 3.2). The hidden work of the Lord in us bears fruit in the lives we lead, in the service we give and in the community which we build. However, at a certain moment, unknown to us, God will conclude the work and will call us to himself. Of everyone it will on a certain day be true that this very night the demand will be made for your soul (Luke 12.20).
A project that endures
Old wisdom urges all of us, young and old, to live our life as if this day were our last. Our life, already hidden in God, is a preparation for when we will be with him all the time. What will Jesus have achieved in us when that moment of judgment comes? In one way we can contemplate the demand for our soul with equanimity. Christ has died for our sins. He has risen again and shared his resurrection with us. The project is complete. However, despite the love of Jesus in our heart, despite the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our mind and despite the grace of God active in our life, we hesitate over that demand for our soul. We are not quite ready.
There is little encouragement in the book of Ecclesiastes to a last-minute smartening up of our act. All is vanity, the preacher says (Ecclesiastes 1.2). Qoholeth teaches us that, although it seems unjust, our labours come to nothing. This ancient sage warns us that our finest endeavours collapse and that our best efforts fail. He observes sadly that the things for which we strive seem to turn to dust even when we attain them. How should disciples of Jesus Christ react to such pessimism? We could understand the assertion that all human effort is vanity as another encouragement to place our complete trust in God. It is the divine plan and providence which will achieve what is truly worthwhile. The saving of us and our world is God’s project. His labours are not in vain. His work endures. If we trust him, all will be well.
The Lord’s hands and earthly goods
Hidden in us, Christ teaches us to pray, to love, to work for justice, to serve, to reconcile, to forgive and to build up what has fallen down. Much remains to be done. Jesus’ mission in the world has a simple focus on revealing God’s love for what he has made. We are the Lord’s hands and there is much for us to do. There is more to be done for God’s glory. There is more to be done for others.
Has vanity crept back in? Are we, without meaning to, working for ourselves and not for God? Is our trust misplaced? That very night the demand for his soul was made of someone who had come to the wrong conclusion about how to live: take things easy, eat, drink and have a good time (Luke 12.19) The parable is concerned with the future ownership of what the rich fool had accumulated, not how he spent any of it. The unwise entrepreneur appeared to have done well. He had pulled down his old barns; he had built new and bigger ones; he had accumulated plenty of good things (Luke 12.19). However, these seemingly good things were not in fact beneficial.
What is unsatisfactory in the accumulation of earthly goods? The parable of the rich fool is more than a meditation on the vanity of human wishes. Jesus is telling us something even more profound than that life is short and that we should focus our efforts on what is really worthwhile. The Lord encourages us to make ourselves rich in the sight of God (Luke 12.21).
Focus on the one thing necessary
What is the good that God would like us to accumulate or with which to allow him to enrich us? Trust? Grace? Virtue? Justice? Love? These and other blessings come to us, no doubt. However, the gospel assures us that our life is not made secure by what we own (Luke 12.15). The more we receive of the wonderful gifts of God, the less we will possess, even of them. The Lord’s enriching of us is a form of dispossession. He confers on us that of which we then make offering. We are being purified of what is superfluous. We are being re-focused on the one thing necessary (Luke 10.42). which is our attention to Christ. To be dispossessed in this way is not be robbed or diminished but to acquire the happiest kind of life.
Empowered to pay close attention to Jesus we discover him praying, serving, healing, bringing justice, peace and truth. Hidden with him in God, we are further empowered to imitate our saviour in these good ways of living. Our association with Jesus Christ is not itself hidden. Indeed, it is that in our existence of which, without vanity, we are most proud. When the demand is made for our soul, our failures will be, by the grace of God, no longer visible. Only the goodness of Jesus will be on display. When Christ is revealed –and he is your life - you too will be revealed in all your glory with him (Colossians 3.4).
Peter Gallagher SJ