Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last week’s in which we heard about the rich young ruler who asked Jesus Good, teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus then points him to the commandments but the man only looked at the commandments in a superficial way and replied, Teacher, I have kept all these since I was a child. So Jesus points out to this rich young ruler of the synagogue that although he may have superficially been observing the commandments, he wasn’t even obeying the First Commandment--fear, love and trust in the true God alone: Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack. Go, see whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” This man’s heart trusted in/ relied upon wealth. His wealth had become the god that he was serving. St. Mark concludes the account this way: When he heard this, he looked sad and went away grieving, because he had great wealth. And then Jesus adds at the beginning of today’s Gospel: How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God.
Then towards the end of our Gospel today, it’s almost as if Peter and the other disciples are glorying in their “poverty” and emphasizing what they “lost” to follow Jesus, as if to say: “Look, we’re not trusting in our wealth”: See, we have left everything and followed You. Certainly, along with this is a bit of works and self righteousness. But Jesus reminds the disciples, and us, that whatever we leave behind for His sake and the sake of the Gospel as we love Jesus, the true God, more than anything earthly, will be more than repaid--100x in fact. For already in this life, we will find in Jesus and His kingdom, the Church, a rich substitute for all we have left behind. And that will carry over into eternal life--a reward of grace!
Our OT text is a wonderful commentary on today’s Gospel because it deals with the question of what is truly meaningful and satisfying in this life. Remember what we heard last week--this rich young ruler went to Jesus and asked Good, teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life? because he knew there was something more, that something was missing. Our OT reading comes from the fascinating OT book of Ecclesiastes. It is the only OT book that could be classified as “philosophy”. It was written by King Solomon towards the end of his life when he was looking back and reflecting on what is truly important and meaningful in life. Remember: this was King Solomon, a man who had it all--wealth beyond measure, power as king of Israel at its height, pleasure, etc. Throughout this book he talks about the vanity, the nothingness of life, that it is like vanishing vapor when it is a life lived apart from God, under the sun. When this earthly life is all that there is, how empty and senseless it is. Look at some of the descriptions King Solomon gives in our OT reading: Anyone who loves money is never satisfied with money, and anyone who loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is vanishing vapor. Wealth never satisfies. The more goods you have, the more hands there are in your pocket taking them. The more you have, the more worry you have: The worker’s sleep is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but a rich person’s abundant possessions allow him no sleep. Not just the rich, but what advantage to the average working man is all his hard work for more and more wealth and possessions? Solomon answers: As he came out from his mother’s womb, so he will go again, naked as he came. From his hard work he can pick up nothing that he can carry away in his hand. This too is a sickening evil: Just as he came, so he will go. So what does he gain, he who works for the wind? Besides this, during all his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, sickness, and anger. The meaninglessness of life without faith in the true God, when the material things become our goal! There is no hope and pleasure in them!
But what is it that we keep hearing from the world around us? --Just the opposite! You will only be happy if you have all sorts of things, riches, wealth, the latest, greatest this and that! To be sure, we are physical/ material beings. We live in a world that we can see, touch, taste, smell, etc. We have physical needs--food, clothing, shelter, etc. But we are much more than just mere physical beings. We are also spiritual beings. We are not just physical bodies but we also have a soul. God created us for fellowship with Him, eternal fellowship with Him. God created us with a longing, desire for Him. Where there isn’t that fellowship with Him, when we make something else our God--what we put our trust and confidence in, what we look to for happiness and contentment--then there will always be that feeling of emptiness, lacking, meaninglessness.
Because of our sinful corruption, we so easily fall prey to this message of materialism we keep hearing from the world-- “your happiness will be found in more and more things and wealth. And if you’re not happy/ fulfilled then try to get more, or the latest and fanciest...” Yes, we may actually feel happy--for a short time, but like a drug, the effect soon wears off and then it’s on to the next latest and greatest thing the advertisers/ culture tell us we need. And the vicious cycle continues. But only in God does life have meaning and true pleasure. Without Him nothing will satisfy.
And since the material doesn’t satisfy, in our sin corrupted reason, we figure we need more: if we have more then we will truly be content and fulfilled. We try to get more and more--be it goods or money--and keep more and more. That’s greed! --You can’t get enough. And on top of that, do you see what is happening? Trying to get more is really putting our trust and confidence in the goods or money for happiness and contentment is making a god out of them. That’s why greed and idolatry are so closely linked. Where there is greed, there the true God is missing and the person is trying to make up for what he feels is missing, making the material things into a poor substitute for the true God. And that doesn’t work, so more and more is sought and held on to--greed. Where is there room for charity? Without the true God nothing satisfies.
Without the true God and faith in Him, there is always worry: will I have enough? How can I do this or that? What will the future hold? What about these difficult/ sorrowful times? With worry, where is the emphasis? It’s on me! I become the center of everything; it all revolves around me. And here too, even when there are good times of blessing--the thought is always “it can all be taken away from me in an instant.” How can anything be enjoyed?
Besides this, during all his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, sickness, and anger. Where money and possessions are the focus of life a rich person’s abundant possessions allow him no sleep--after all how can one sleep at night worrying about how the stocks will do, or isn’t there even the worry that a power surge will wipe out my devices? You see, so often things own us, we don’t own them. We own them when we, in a detached way, use them for their purpose and that’s all--not worrying about them or letting them be all consuming.
If we seek meaning and pleasure for our lives in anything but the true God, then we will have nothing but discontentment; we will never be satisfied. Again, because the earthly, temporal things can and do never give true and full meaning and satisfaction, there always has to be that longing for something bigger and better, the idea that “I’m not content because I just need this or that.” The simple fact is that material things no matter how grand will always fail to deliver contentment, satisfaction. They may work for a time, but at the end of the day it will be seen as what it is: vanity/ a vanishing vapor. Materialism, hawked by the world around us and which finds a happy reception in our sin-corrupted heart, will never give meaning and joy to life--only faith in the true God does that.
But because we are spiritual beings, our lives will only have true satisfaction and contentment in God, only as we live them with faith in Him. As Solomon points out later, true pleasure and meaning comes only when we acknowledge and revere God [12.13]: Fear God and keep His commandments. With our restless hearts resting in the Lord, there we have peace and joy, contentment and fulfillment. That’s because, we, dear Christian, have hope! With our hearts resting in the Lord, knowing He is God and He is in control and that He is our Savior and dear Father in heaven, what peace and meaning fill our lives and hearts!
Solomon writes: So then, here is what I have seen to be good: It is beautiful to eat, to drink, and to look for good in all a person’s hard work which he has done under the sun, during the few days of his life. Even in something most people find unpleasant and would rather avoid--a person’s hard work which he has done under the sun-- and kind of depressing-- the few days of his life-- even that gives satisfaction. Because why? Our gaze is in faith heavenward to the Lord. Our heart is at rest in Him. We see that He has given us our lot, our talents, our opportunities and possessions. We see all that we are and have come from Him as a gift to each one of us. This is what the Lord has given me, let me enjoy it, make the most of it and use it properly while living in this world; let me be happy and content; He knows what is best for me so I will use and enjoy it with thanksgiving. Do you see how different and meaningful life is when we live it in faith in the holy Triune God? It becomes a constant receiving of the gifts of God and a constant worship of Him, as St. Paul writes [1 Cor. 10.31]: Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
We see and recognize everything as a gift of God. Yes, the earthly, temporal, material things are all God’s gifts to us. Solomon writes: Likewise, for everyone to whom God has given wealth and riches, if God has also given him ability to eat from it, to enjoy his reward and to rejoice in the results of his hard work--this is a gift of God. Wealth and treasures are not condemned. They are God’s gifts to us. When we live our lives in faith in the Lord, then we have the right view of them--they are not the end all, the goal of life, things to be accumulated and hoarded. As we recognize what we have--wealth and riches-- as God’s gifts, then we will see with each gift from God that He is telling us not to be anxious. As we lay aside our worry, then we will wait for these things from the Lord--and, if God requires it, we then will also gladly give them up.
Notice what Solomon writes in our text: if God has also given him ability to eat from it, to enjoy his reward and to rejoice in the results of his hard work--this is a gift of God. It is a special gift of God when we cheerfully enjoy His blessings. It’s not the earthly treasures that make it that we cheerfully enjoy them--instead, we enjoy them because God has given us the gift of enjoyment. And here is faith--the gift of faith that God gives us/ works in us by His holy word and sacrament. Through faith we know these things are gifts--be they many or few-- of God our dear heavenly Father and Savior. As we taste and see of His earthly gifts, we are pointed forward to His heavenly gifts--the forgiveness of sin and eternal life. These gifts of God give us the happiness in this life to allow us to carry on in the midst of sorrows and trials as our heart rests in God. Our text: for the man seldom reflects on the days of his life, since God keeps him busy with the joy in his heart. In the enjoyment in faith of the Lord’s gifts, it is such a deep joy that penetrates the heart and satisfies it that we forget the frailty and darkened side of this life. The most difficult experiences in life pale in comparison with the love God shows us by grace. What great peace and comfort that when difficulties come, we need not worry but know, in faith, the Lord is working His good and gracious will to us in them. We know that nothing in life is by chance or dumb luck. Instead, with faith in Jesus, life is rich and full of meaning and enjoyment and without Him nothing satisfies. INJ Amen