That might be where some of us learned what vanity is…. Vanity is self-centeredness or conceit. Imagine a guy who is constantly checking his reflection in the mirror – we can him ‘vain’ – thinking the world revolves around him.
That’s kinda like another meaning of vanity which may be familiar to us… the little counter in your bathroom or bedroom where you wash your face and fix your make-up…. Again – it’s vanity – all about looking at your SELF. self-centeredness.
But when I hear this reading, I get the impression he’s saying everything is useless – worthless – a waste of time - a futile effort. Isn’t that how it hits most of us? So which is it? Conceit or Worthless?
Let’s do a little scripture study. See – when St. Jerome translated the original Hebrew text into Latin, he translated the Hebrew word ‘hebel’ as ‘vanitas’… and ‘vanitas’ was later translated to English as ‘vanity’.
But the original word ‘hebel’ would typically be used to represent vapor, fog, steam, breeze or breath. Notice – every one of those things is passing… non-permanent… picture opening a pot of boiling water and all the steam comes out – but 10 seconds later, that steam is gone. So – ‘hebel’ really is implying something that comes and goes… it lacks substance or permanence…
So – the writer of that reading is saying – everything we do on this earth is vanity – it is without substance – it is non-permanent….it’s here then it’s gone. Why waste your life working for stuff that is like vapor?
That matches up with what Jesus says in the Gospel… You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Why waste our time in our brief life concentrating on building wealth which will just be left to somebody else who didn’t work for it? It occurs to me, that by leaving a large inheritance to our kids, we also deprive them of learning the value of a dollar and the value of hard-work. Don’t get me wrong – an inheritance is a good thing – in fact, the Bible says in another place that a wise man leaves an inheritance for his children. But today’s reading puts a cap on that… why spend your whole life working so that your kids and grandkids can sit in the lap of luxury and waste their lives away??
Is money bad – no – it’s a necessary means of supporting yourself and your family.
Is working a bad thing – no – in fact, to work hard at a job worth doing is one of the greatest gifts that life offers… but… if work becomes our goal and we focus all of our life, effort, attention to it – then it becomes our god. I know this is a real danger especially for Men, but some for women as well. It is in working hard that we feel like we’re fulfilling our purpose in life. We get such a good feeling out of it that we can easily become work-a-holics and center our lives around work. This is exactly what the reading is warning us about. It is vanity for us to invest all of our time and energy into building wealth when it will all be left to somebody who didn’t earn it. Not only are we wasting our effort, but we’re depriving our next generation of the good feeling from working hard. God gave us the ability to build wealth… but is that the purpose he gave it for??
That goes for everything in life – our possessions, how we spend our time, what we read or watch or think about. All of this is passing.. it is like vapor. In the big picture, it is insignificant and unimportant. And that really fits both of our definitions of vanity… it is all passing or worthless….and it’s all self-centered…. All is vanity.
So – what are we SUPPOSED to do? The last line of the Gospel gives us a good clue: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
How can we be “rich in what matters to God”? I could give you some answers right now – but you probably wouldn’t really listen. None of us wants to be told what to do. Instead – each of us has to answer that question for ourselves. Every moment of every day, we have to ask – is this helping me become rich in what matters to God? Add that to your prayer – what IS it that matters in life? What is my goal? What is my purpose? See – until we decide that the most important thing is to live for God, then all of the other stuff in life will continue to block out God – like fog blinding us from seeing our true destination. Here’s the point of the readings: All of our ‘stuff’ is fog – and one day when we die, the fog will lift – and we’ll be left standing face to face with God – and realize that everything else has been in vain.
(I can just imagine God singing Carly Simon’s song to me – with slightly different words – “You’re so vain, you prob-ly think that LIFE is about you……don’t you”. )