“There was a rich man… [who] said… I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now … rest, eat, drink; be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you…’ (Lk: 12:16;18;19;20)
Pride is the first of the seven deadly sins. As a vice pride also contributes mightily to the motivation of the other six deadly sins.
Take for example the activity of the rich man in today’s gospel reading whose pride misguides him to other grave sins. First, improper pride leads the rich man to a foolish reliance upon himself: he believes that he can preserve his own life by storing up goods on earth. Next, this hubris becomes the basis of avarice in that the only purposes the rich man can see for his goods are his own security and his own pleasure – in the latter case physical pleasure associated with gluttony. Lastly, the selfish pursuit of his “rest” along with his excessive esteem for his own needs will only result in sloth or lethargy of soul thereby further diminishing his charity toward others.
Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity! Pride is vanity. Yet to be clear, we do not mean here by “vanity” the inordinate self-esteem that desires the attention and praise of others, which is of course one description of vanity. When the first reading for this Sunday speaks of vanity it means “futility”. It carries the meaning of the parable in the gospel reading which instructs that all the labor spent storing up treasure for oneself on earth is pointless; for when God demands your life the realization comes that it would have been better if you had stored up treasure in heaven (Mt 6:19-20).
For this 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time we place on our bulletin cover an image showing another exercise in futility. It is a work by the great Venetian master Titian entitled Sisyphus (1549). In Greek mythology Sisyphus was the founder and first king of what was to become Corinth. He was sly in his actions and even once chained Thanatos, the personification of Death who had come to chain him. Thus for a time no one on earth would die. Since Sisyphus was also a murderous and avaricious king who had more regard for his own pride than that of the gods, he was punished in the underworld by Zeus by being assigned the task of pushing a massive rock up a hill which would then slip from his grasp each time just before he reached the top of the hill, thus forcing him to do this over and over for all eternity. Sisyphus is for us this Sunday a symbol of the effort of futile labor.
All honest work is of course a virtue. However, our labor should always be turned toward our spiritual life. When God gave Adam the command to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gn 1:28) God did not mean for each person to hoard, but for each person to hallow. It will always be the case that those who labor without the Spirit, labor in vain (Ps 127: 1-2).
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services