Daily Homily: You Turn Man Back to Dust

Saturday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time, Year Two

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Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:8
Psalm 90:3-4,5-6,12-13,14 and 17
Luke 9:43b-45

Today’s reading from Ecclesiastes is a meditation on the vanity of life and the certainty of death. Qoheleth’s outlook is very grim and dark. Earlier he writes: «For if a man lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity» (11:8).

The Preacher doesn’t try to look beyond the grave. He encourages young people to enjoy the days of their youth, but to know also that God will judge them for their actions. «Because God is also Judge and will hold man accountable for his actions (3:17; 11:9; 12:14), Qoheleth urges readers to fear him (5:7; 12:13), to keep his commandments (12:13), and to avoid thoughtless expressions of prayer and worship (5:2-3). He is convinced that ‘it will be well with those who fear God’ (8:12)» (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon, Ignatius Press, 66).

Qoheleth also uses several images to talk about old age and the end of life. In the end, man goes to his eternal home, understood here as the grave. Man’s body is dust and the dust returns to the earth. Yet in all this, there is a glimmer of hope, for man’s spirit, breathed into man and given by God, returns not to the earth but to God. This is only a glimmer, since Qoheleth has no vision of ongoing life or happiness after death (9:5,10) (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon, Ignatius Press, 66).

When Qoheleth calls all things vanity, he means that they are fleeting and that they quickly pass away. Vain are worldly pleasures, wealth, worldly wisdom, and the vigor of youth. They all pass away and death is inevitable.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus also speaks about death. This is the second time he foretells his death. The first time was after Peter’s confession of faith; this second time takes place after the Transfiguration. He is introducing his disciples into the mystery of redemption.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria explains how the scapegoat in the Old Testament foreshadowed Jesus’ passion: «According to the Mosaic law, two goats were offered. They were not different in any way from one another, but they were alike in size and appearance. Of these, one was called ‘the Lord’, and the other was called ‘sent-away’. When the lot was cast for the one called ‘lord’, it was sacrificed. The other one was sent away from the sacrifice, and therefore had the name of ‘sent-away’. Who was signified by this? The Word, though he was God, was in our likeness and took the form of us sinners, as far as the nature of the flesh was concerned. The male or female goat was sacrificed for sins. Death was our desert, for we had fallen under the divine curse because of sin. When the Savior of all undertook the responsibility, he transferred to himself what was due to us and laid down his life, that we might be sent away from death and destruction» (Commentary on Luke, Homily 53).

Jesus tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9). He does this so that man can be transformed. Since this transformation had to be carried out through suffering, sinful mankind was always rebelling against it. So, Jesus, the pioneer of our salvation, had to submit himself to this suffering, although personally he had no need to do so. Jesus took on a human nature and in the flesh accepts the painful transforming action of God so as to be able to communicate it to us, his brothers and sisters (see A. Vanhoye, A Different Priest, Convivium, 111). Through his death, Jesus destroys death. Through the Gospel, Jesus brings life to light (2 Timothy 1:10).

After Jesus’ resurrection, we can respond to Qoheleth that not everything ends with the grave – that with Christ, there are things that are not vanity. Yes, man dies. But this is not the end, since death is only a passage from this life to the next. Yes, man will be judged. However, our Judge is not only just, but is also merciful. Yes, worldly treasure is fleeting. But there is heavenly treasure that lasts. Yes, the joys of youth pass away. But there is a heavenly joy that will not pass away. Yes, our bodies return to the earth. But on the last day, they will gloriously be raised with Jesus.

Readers may contact Fr Jason Mitchell at mitchelljason2011@gmail.com.

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Jason Mitchell

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