One of the main occupations of our human life has to do with filling up what is empty. We equate happiness with an experience of fullness. Many different areas of our lives need filling: our stomachs, our schedules, the gas tank of our car, our bank accounts, our hearts, our minds, our hopes, etc. The word “vanity” could be a synonym for emptiness. The difference is that what is vain often seems to be worthwhile at one level – we experience some degree of satisfaction – but it leaves us empty. Eating will satisfy a hunger for food, but eating will not fill the other areas of my heart that experience emptiness. That’s the foolishness of the man who has stockpiled food in today’s Gospel. As important as it is to fill your stomach every day, a full stomach is not the same as a full life. Imagining that you don’t have to worry about tomorrow anymore because you have an unlimited supply of resources is an illusion. Tomorrow isn’t just twenty-four hours from now, the real tomorrow is eternity. Any pursuit that tries to manage tomorrow as though it were disconnected from eternity is vain – empty. Any reliance on the situations and things of this world is vain because they will not follow in the next.
Vanity of vanities refers not only to the emptiness of material things, but to striving after them. If possessions cannot bring me fulfillment, then spending my life organizing them and multiplying them is doubly vain. St. Augustine recommends that we invest our possessions in the eternal bank: the poor. By using what resources we have to care for the poor, we make a wise investment in the the tomorrow of eternity. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
He was correct when he did not listen to the man who, in disagreement with his brother, said, “Master, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” He said, “Master, tell my brother.” Tell him what? He said, “To divide the inheritance with me.” The Lord said, “Speak, man.” Why do you want to divide it except because you are human? Whenever someone says, “I am of Paul,” but another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not merely human? “Tell me, man, who has appointed me a judge of the inheritance among you? I have come to gather, not to scatter.” He said, “I say to you, guard against all greed.” Greed wants to divide, just as love desires to gather. What is the significance of “guard against all greed,” unless it is “fill yourselves with love”? We, possessing love for our portion, inconvenience the Lord because of our brother just as that man did against his brother, but we do not use the same plea. He said, “Master, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” We say, “Master, tell my brother that he may have my inheritance.”1
“The redemption of a man’s soul is his riches.” This silly fool of a man did not have that kind of riches. Obviously he was not redeeming his soul by giving relief to the poor. He was hoarding perishable crops. I repeat, he was hoarding perishable crops, while he was on the point of perishing because he had handed out nothing to the Lord before whom he was due to appear. How will he know where to look, when at that trial he starts hearing the words “I was hungry and you did not give me to eat”? He was planning to fill his soul with excessive and unnecessary feasting and was proudly disregarding all those empty bellies of the poor. He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns. What he was stowing away in those barns was perhaps even then being stolen away by thieves. But if he stowed it away in the bellies of the poor, it would of course be digested on earth, but in heaven it would be kept all the more safely. The redemption of a man’s soul is his riches.2
LEO THE GREAT:
The devil, even in the midst of our efforts, does not relax his schemes. At certain periods of time, we must take care of the reenergizing of our strength. The mind, concerned with the goods of the present, can rejoice in the temperate weather and the fertile fields. When the fruits are gathered into great barns, it can say to its soul, “You have many good things; eat.” It may receive a kind of rebuke from the divine voice and may hear it saying, “Fool, this very night they demand your soul from you. The things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
This should be the careful consideration of wise people, that since the days of this life are short and the time uncertain, death should never be unexpected for those who are to die. Those who know that they are mortal should not come to an unprepared end.3
He uselessly accumulates wealth when he does not know how he will use it. He is like him who, when his full barns were bursting from the new harvest, prepared storehouses for his abundant fruits, not knowing for whom he gathered them. The things that are of the world remain in the world, and whatever riches we gather are bequeathed to our heirs. The things that we cannot take away with us are not ours either. Only virtue is the companion of the dead. Compassion alone follows us. It is the guide to the heavens and the first of the mansions. Through the use of worthless money, it acquires eternal dwellings for the dead. The Lord’s commands testify when he says, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.”4
David, who had experienced those very glances which are dangerous for a man, aptly says that the person is blessed whose every hope is in the name of God. For such a one does not have regard to vanities and follies who always strives toward Christ and always looks upon Christ with his inner eyes. For this reason David turned to God again and said, “Turn away my eyes, that they may not see vanity.” The circus is vanity, because it is totally without profit; horse racing is vanity, because it is counterfeit as regards salvation; the theater is vanity, every game is vanity. “All things are vanity!” as Ecclesiastes said, all things that are in this world. Accordingly, let the person who wishes to be saved ascend above the world, let him seek the Word who is with God, let him flee from this world and depart from the earth. For a man cannot comprehend that which exists and exists always, unless he has first fled from here.5
What is that vanity, if not devotion to riches and the pursuit of worldly pleasures? This is confirmed through Solomon, who says, “Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.” Therefore, dearly beloved, let no one put his confidence in the vanity of this world. That vanity, as you see, is something standing with insecure footing. Devotion to it is short-lived and empty, and its beauty is like smoke in a wind. The comeliness of its countenance is like that which you see when you look on the beauty of that vine which had its early summer blossoms in well-constituted abundance yet cannot bring forth the actual fruit of the promised grape harvest. While it brings forth too much, it incurs the reproach of perpetual sterility.6
What is vanity of mind? It is the being busied about vain things. And what are those vain things, but all things in the present life? Of them the Preacher says, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” But a person will say, If they be vain and vanity, for what purpose were they made? If they are God’s works, how are they vain? And great is the dispute concerning these things. But listen, beloved: it is not the works of God that he calls vain; God forbid! The heaven is not vain, the earth is not vain—God forbid!—nor the sun, nor the moon and stars, nor our own body. No, all these are “very good.” But what is vain? Let us hear the Preacher himself, what he says: “I planted vineyards, I got men singers and women singers, I made pools of water, I had great possessions of herds and flocks, I gathered me also silver and gold, and I saw that these are vanity.”7
It was not idly or without purpose that I anticipated the event and instructed your loving assembly in all these matters, but I did so that you might be carried on by the wings of hope and enjoy the pleasure before you enjoyed the actual benefit. I did it, too, that you might adopt a purpose worthy of the rite, and as blessed Paul has exhorted, you might “mind the things that are above” and change your thoughts from earth to heaven, from visible things to those that are unseen. And we see the objects of bodily sight more clearly with the eyes of the spirit.8
You should realize that you are walking on the edge of a sharp sword, that you are standing on the edge of a precipice with a ravine on either side. Do not let your thoughts be upset by things here on earth, but keep your mind’s gaze on “Jerusalem which is above.” “Think of what is above, and not of what is on earth.” Ensure that you let go of everything which belongs to this world.9
For this is the meaning of flight: to know your goal, to unburden oneself of the world, to unburden oneself of the body.… This is the meaning of flight from here—to die to the elements of this world, to hide one’s life in God, to turn aside from corruptions, not to defile oneself with the objects of desire and to be ignorant of the things of this world.10
About this kind of death the apostle said, “For you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Perhaps about this it was said, “Strong as death is love.” For by this love it comes to pass that, dwelling in this still corruptible body, we die to this world and our life is hidden with Christ in God, nay rather, love itself is our death to the world and our life with God.11
Thus, in movements according to the spirit, the soul sometimes opposes other movements of itself according to the flesh. Conversely, in movements according to the flesh, it opposes others which it has according to the spirit, and this is why we say the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit lusts against the flesh. But this is also why “it is being renewed day by day,” for the soul does not fail to make progress in virtue as it gradually diminishes the carnal desires to which it does not consent. It is to those already baptized that the apostle says, “Mortify your members, which are on the earth.”12
- SERMON 265.9. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 207). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Sermon 36.9. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 208). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 90.4.1. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 208). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- EXPOSITION OF THE GOSPEL OF LUKE, HOMILY 7.122. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 208). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- FLIGHT FROM THE WORLD 1.4. Wright, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (p. 194). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILY 6.7. Wright, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (p. 195). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON EPHESIANS 12. Wright, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (p. 195). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- BAPTISMAL INSTRUCTIONS 2.28. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (pp. 45–46). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- LETTER TO CYRIACUS 55. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 46). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Flight from the World 7.38. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 46). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TRACTATES ON JOHN 65.1. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 47). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- AGAINST JULIAN 6.14.41. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 47). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.