Our sacred authors rarely can be accused of glossing over reality. On the contrary, some authors are so realistic that people of faith frequently try to tone down their statements.

The well-known words which introduce Qoheleth's book of Ecclesiastes present us with a classic example of biblical realism: "Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!" (Eccl. 1: 2; 2: 21-33).

Should anyone challenge the author's outlook, he quickly supplies examples. "Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill," he writes, "and yet to another who has not labored over it, he must leave his property....For what profit comes to people from all their toil and anxiety of death?" Everything we build up on this earth vanishes with our death.

Riches gone

Jesus seems to agree. In the Gospel, He not only refuses to get involved in a specific family's financial dispute, but also supplies us with a story to back up His refusal (Lk 12: 13-21). The rich man who becomes so wealthy that he must build new barns and warehouses to store his wealth eventually hears the words all creatures will hear: "This night your life will be demanded of you!"

But Jesus doesn't end His discourse here. Unlike Qoheleth, He believes in an afterlife. His next statement opens the door to things beyond our physical death. "Thus will it be," He warns, "for all who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God."

What are those things that "matter to God," the things which lead us to treasures beyond this life?

Paul shows us how to travel the road to "what is above" (Col 3: 1-5, 9-11). He believes the first step along that path is to die with Jesus so deeply that our life here on earth is "hidden with Christ in God." As Paul says, we'll know we're going in a heavenly direction when we've minimized immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires and greed.

For Paul, the whole process of appearing with Christ in glory revolves around taking "off our old self with its practices and putting on the new self, which is being renewed....in the image of its creator." He believes that the only way to live forever with God is to imitate God right here and now. That insight brings him to the heart of his argument.

Paul presumes we definitely step beyond the vain limits of this world when we realize there no longer is "Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarism, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all."

All in one

Those familiar with Paul's writings appreciate both his passion for unity and his conviction that all Jesus' followers make up the Body of Christ.

Remember the passage from I Corinthians 11 which we recently heard on the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus? There, Paul not only bemoans the divisions infecting the Christian community during its celebration of the Lord's Supper, but also states that the main requirement for a person to receive Jesus' Body and Blood in the Eucharist was that he or she first recognize that those gathered around them during the celebration already comprise Jesus' Body. Paul presumes anyone who can't see Jesus in a living person isn't worthy to receive Jesus in the bread and wine.

The Apostle roots his argument in a double belief: God created all people as one, and God is able to see God's Son in each created person. That Son identified with His fellow human beings in such a deep way that, after His death and resurrection, no one can experience us without experiencing Jesus. He really has become "all and in all."

If what "matters to God" doesn't matter to us right here and now, why would we want to spend our eternity with God?

(08-02-01)