An old man limped into the doctor's office and said, “Doctor, my knee hurts so bad, I can hardly walk!”
The doctor slowly eyed him from head to toe, paused and then said, “Sir, how old are you?”
I'm 98,” the man announced proudly.
The doctor just sighed, and looked at him again. Finally he said, “Sir, I'm sorry. I mean, just look at you. You are almost one hundred years old, and you're complaining that your knee hurts? Well, what did you expect?”
The old man said, “Well, my other knee is 98 years old too, and it doesn't hurt!”
My passport is going to expire in two months and I am applying for a new one. I looked at the picture from the old passport and I like it. I looked young with full well grooming hair. I thought that if I apply online, they would use my old picture for the new passport. But it is not like applying for the driver license renewal. I have to send in two new pictures for the renewal of my passport. So I went to Walgreens to take the new picture. I was surprise to see the difference. I looked much older in the new picture than the picture in the old passport. The hair is not as full and dark as it used to be. That is a fact of life. I am getting old. I don’t like it, but I must accept it.
A person asked a spiritual master, “What has grace brought you?”
The master replied, “When I wake in the morning I feel like a man who is not sure he will live till evening.”
The questioner responded, “But doesn’t’ everyone know this?”
The master said, “They certainly do. But not all of them feel it.”
We all know and believe that we are getting older and going to die; but we do not feel death yet. Actually we are avoiding feeling it. We are running as far away from it as possible. We use vitamins and health supplements products to enhance our health. We want to be young, stay young and look young. Hollywood’s women are fighting for their looks. They are trying to convince themselves and others that age is nothing but a number. Look at Betty White, Joan Rivers, Liz Taylor, Doris Day, Liza Minnelli, Raquel Welch, and Cher etc. with many trips to the doctor’s office for cosmetic surgeries; they still cannot hide their aging.
The reading from the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us of the passing nature of all things. Vanity of vanities. All things are vanity. Vanity means something without substance and lasting value. The author of the book of Ecclesiastes saw and experienced all the best things life had to offer: pleasure, beauty, wealth, power and knowledge; however, he found nothing of lasting value or satisfaction. He acknowledged that there was an advantage for people in the enjoyment of certain legitimate pleasures to avoid pessimism and despair, but it is also vanity unless they return due thanks to their Creator who has given them all.
People considered Jesus a wise and influential man. They came to seek his advice. A young man asked him to tell his brother to share the inheritance with him. Jesus replied, “Who appointed me to be the judge and arbitrator?” Jesus refused to get involved in the disputes of earthly things. He took the opportunity to teach the young man and his followers to avoid being greedy. Any greedy person is a fool.
He said, “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.” Bountiful means a lot. He had more than he needed. He did not have enough space to store his products. He had many barns. But his barns were too small. He never thought of sharing or giving some of his products away. He just concentrated on storing up more and more. “I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” He is the fool.
He is a financially successful man –we see him as savvy and wise. He could make his name a headline story in the media today. Many people would envy him. Yet, Jesus concluded the story by saying that this man was a fool! What did he do wrong? He did not cheat. He did not steal. He did not lie. He was just a successful farmer. Is it a fool to be wealthy? Is it a fool to have investments in the stock market or in a bank? Is it a fool to have IRA or CD accounts? Is it a fool to have health insurance? Jesus is not saying that we are fools because we have money set aside for rainy days or for our retirement. Jesus called the man a fool because he loved his possessions and found security in his treasure. He continued to worry about building up storages for his own future. He never had a thought in his mind to give any of it away. He just wanted to keep it for himself. He did not know how or want to share his blessings with others so that they could be happy as well. He was a fool.
He was a fool because he did not see God as the source of his fortunes and blessings. He was not thankful for his fortunes. He did not give thanks to God. He did not believe that God was in control of his life. He thought he owned the future of his life, but he didn’t. None of us do. He wanted to live today trying to ensure the pleasures of tomorrow. He failed to be a good steward of the abundance that God entrusted to him. He was a greedy man. And Jesus says that greedy person is a fool. He tells his followers to guard against all greed. The fools are “those who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God” (Lk 12:21).
St. Jerome, writing about 400 A.D., mentioned in a letter a woman who “preferred to store her money in the stomach of the needy than in her purse.” Her practices helped her to be rich in what matters to God. The best investment we make is always in what matters to God. The most important future is the future with God in eternity. St. Paul says it beautifully in the second reading, “Brothers and sisters, if you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
Last summer, I was visiting Colombia and met a young woman from Florida visiting her friend in Medellin. It was nice to meet someone who spoke English there. She said, “Father, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, what do you have in mind?” I asked her.
She questioned, “Is it a sin to have cosmetic surgery? I had one last year for breast enhancement, but I have felt guilty about it.”
I told her, “I don’t think God would consider it’s sinful. It might be vain, but not a sin. God would understand if it is helping you to feel better about yourself and to become a better person. It is good to be beautiful and attractive, but it should be more important for you to be beautiful in personality and attitude as well. Physical beauty without virtues and good characters would be valueless in the eyes of God.
And here is another example. A parishioner sent me this letter.
Fr. John, I know that a lot of people turn to you and God when they need help with something. Well guess what? I need your help with something. A parishioner in our Parish needs help. I would like you to somehow act as a conduit to help him with his troubles. He currently owes money on his taxes. If it is not paid in half by July 23rd 2010 his house will go up for auction or sale. He is a hardworking, honorable and honest man. He pays his workers fist only taking what is left for himself. I would offer the money to him directly, but his pride and dignity would never let him accept it. He outright owns the home and built it with his own hands. He is in the homebuilding industry, as you know times are tough. Can you believe they would sell or auction off a home that he owns for a measly $12,000? I don't know how you can get this money to him, but please make it happen. Enclosed is a check to St. Bart’s for $3,000. This should finish off his half. If you are unable to do this please use the money wherever the Parish need it the most, but this man deserves our help.
Thank You and God bless.
Which of these two is rich in what matters to God?