The following is my homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.
Does it really matter?
When I was a freshman in high school, I decided to run for student body president. It… did not go well. The school, very wisely, did not release the actual vote tally, but it was clear after the fact from my unofficial exit polling that I had not only lost, but lost by a lot. It was pretty embarrassing.
Now, truth be told, I don’t actually remember much about the campaign or the election itself, but I distinctly remember the conversation I had with my dad that night… because it seems so ridiculous to me now. I was so upset you would have thought that I had just been sentenced to life in prison and I remember him asking me why it bothered me so much, that it was just a freshman class election. I told him that it was so much more than that. I had lost this year, which meant I’d be a year behind next year, which meant I wouldn’t win next year either, which meant that I would never be president of the school and colleges would see that and so I wouldn’t get into a good college and then I wouldn’t get a good job and so my life was basically ruined at that point.
A little dramatic, I know.
Sometimes it’s helpful to be able to take a step back and see the bigger picture. When we were younger and something went wrong—we failed a test, someone broke up with us, something embarrassing happened at school—it seemed like such a big deal, like our life was ending. Years later, with many more experiences, realizing that there are far more important things to life, we just have to look back and laugh. Why were we so upset over something that had literally no impact of our lives whatsoever?
How much time we’ve probably spent worrying, sulking, crying over nothing! Had we seen where we are now, known what’s really important, we would have realized that those things really don’t matter, and spent our time on things that actually do.
This, I think, would have been great advice for the rich man in our Gospel. On the surface, if we’re honest with ourselves, we probably identify pretty well with him. What he does actually makes a lot of sense. He’s just being prudent and responsible, saving for a rainy day. Who can really fault him for working hard early in life, saving up, and resting at the end? Seems like he’s living the dream. When we look at his actions in the moment, they seem quite fine.
But take a step back, take the longer view, look at his life from the perspective of heaven, and things appear very different. What we see is a man who is so very worried about what he will eat tomorrow, how much money he will have left, whether or not he will be safe, that all he can think to do is build a bigger barn to protect his wealth. While his story and mine might seem very different—mine of failure and his of success—they are, actually, the very same: we have spent time thinking and worrying about things that mean absolutely nothing in the long run. Just as my dad asked me why losing bothered me so much, God asks the man, what good his possessions are to him now that he is going to die. In fact, he calls him a fool for wasting so much of his time on such things… which is never good, God calling you a fool.
Rather than feeding the hungry, sharing his wealth with the poor, virtuous things that would have benefited the man after death and built up the kingdom of God, he has spent his life worrying about something that has literally no impact on his soul whatsoever. You can almost picture the man after death, standing before God, feeling the same way I do when I think back on high school. “Why did I spend so much time worried about those stupid things. I wish I would have spent more time on things that mattered to God.”
By the time he realized this, though, it was too late for him. His life was poorly spent.
Luckily, it’s not too late for us. The reason that Jesus tells us this parable is because he wants us to make a change, because he doesn’t want us to stand before God at the end of our lives and realize we wasted them on things that don’t matter. Because we often do. How true the words spoken by Qoheleth were in our first reading: “vanities of vanities, all things are vanity!” We spend so much of our time and energy worrying about things that seem so important at the time, that make us feel like they are the only thing that matter, and yet have literally no impact on our lives in God whatsoever.
Like the rich man, we worry about money: how much of it we have, what we spend it on, who has more of it than we do, where we can get more.
Here on a college campus, we worry about grades. In the grand scheme of life, could there be a more useless form of currency in all the world? Once you graduate, maybe even before that, no one cares or remembers what you got in biology or history. And yet, how many hours of sleep are lost, days ruined, not in actual learning, but in worrying about some arbitrary letter on a transcript?
I look at the fights we have, the things we choose to fall on the sword over. I’ve seen friendships ruined because one person had this political view and the other had another, and despite the fact that it in no way affected either of their lives—they were just opinions—they refused to speak with one another.
How sad it is to see so much time and energy wasted on things that do not bring us closer to God, that do not build up the kingdom.
We get so caught up in the moment, forgetting the big picture, that we let petty and useless things convince us that they really matter, that this is worth getting upset over.
St. Paul says no: seek what is above. Do not get caught up in the things that are below, the things that distract us from what’s important. Keep your eyes on what is above, on heaven, the kingdom of God, the thing that matters above all else. Never let this image leave you. Never forget what really matters. When we find ourselves upset over something trivial, annoyed by how someone spoke to us disrespectfully, how something didn’t go how we wanted it to go, we can step back and ask ourselves an important question: “does it matter? In the grand scheme of things, if I’m standing there in heaven after I die, will I be able to say that this thing that I’m spending so much time and enter worrying about actually made an impact on my soul, on my relationship with God?”
If not, let it go! Do not waste a second of your life worrying about something that will not bring you closer to God. Do not waste a moment on something that does not make the kingdom of God more present in the here and now. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth it looking back at your life with embarrassment, realizing that you lost your temper over a freshman election, that you lost a week of your life moping over something that didn’t matter. It’s not worth being the rich man, standing before God, having wasted his life worrying about things that didn’t matter.
You do not want that.
In everything you do, keep your eyes on what is above. Commit yourself to peace, justice, mercy, and truth, treasures that really matter, and you will find yourself, at the end of your life, rich in what matters to God.