Everything is vanity, the reading from Ecclesiastes says. You toil in the day; you’re anxious in the night. And it’s all just vanity. Who cares?
No wonder many people think Ecclesiastes is a depressing book!
But notice that Jesus says something similar in the Gospel reading. The rich man was thinking about building bigger barns. But, in the parable God says to him, “You fool! This night your soul will be required of you, and somebody else will get all your stuff.” What will the rich man care about his barns then?
And that’s the problem with many of the things we care about in this life, barns or material goods of any kind: you lose them when you die.
The same thing is true of a lot of what we spend our lives on. Those things don’t amount to anything in the long run; and, like the rich man, we waste the part of our lives that we used up on them. There is time spent struggling for the next honor or the next accomplishment. There is time consumed on sorrowing over not getting the next honor or accomplishment. For that matter, there is time frittered away watching TV or “doing nothing” in any other way. Picture yourself as you come before God at your death, returning to God the talents he entrusted to you. Will you care about any of those things then?
That’s why Ecclesiastes says they are vanity. Whatever good is in them is transient; they die when you do.
In the long run, then, who cares about them? You can’t take any of them with you when you die, any more than the rich man could take his barns with him. When you come before the face of God, you won’t care about them then either.
Ecclesiastes is a consoling book, not a depressing one. The transience of earthly goods should be comforting to us. Barns may be good, but, in the long run, getting them—or losing them—is not of overwhelming importance. We can do our work in quiet, and we can suffer our reverses in quiet too, because none of these things last.
Love lasts. Work done in love, for love of the Lord, lasts. And the Lord is ever-lasting.
What is worth caring about is what lasts.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University