We have an interesting, if not particularly uplifting, selection for our readings today. It's actually rather fitting to have these reminders of the final temporal end of human life given that we have just officially passed into autumn. If you've ever read Moby Dick, you might recall the narrator, Ishmael, reflecting on "the damp, drizzly November in my soul." And we've had just a little of that dampness and drizzle as autumn officially begins.
Our first reading from Ecclesiastes delivers a message that I wish I had heard when I was an adolescent. Now, I'm sure I'm not alone in that. Many of us blew off the teachings of our parents and the Church, assuming all of those consequences would never come to call, that our chickens wouldn't come home to roost. And of course, if there was ever an egg of the Catholic faith laid in the nest of our hearts, we did experience the consequences. And thank God for that, because that egg hatched and brought many of us back to the practice of the faith.
I would now like to sincerely apologize for that awful metaphor. I put this homily together in a hurry last night after I learned that Fr. Vogel needed me to preside at this communion service.
Jesus' message to us in the Gospel of Luke makes the same point, but He personalizes it. Rather than some generic youth coming to suffer in his later years, Jesus says, "The Son of Man is to be handed over to men." I am going into bondage and suffering. The Twelve and the disciples don't get it. They still think that the coming of the Messiah is going to be all Skittles and ponies. In Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth is warning the young that they too will experience this dwindling, this failing of the body, this diminishment. We who are full of our own power, full of our own strength, full of our own ability—our powers will fade. We come into our adult life full of the false promises of the world. And Qoheleth reminds us that our time is coming.
Notice how different that is from our Lord. He has no illusions about whether He will suffer. The disciples can't fathom it. The idea that the Messiah would fall doesn't fit into their concept of the Messiah. Even now, that is what you'll hear from Jews about Jesus: He isn't the Messiah they were looking for. And that's because they didn't and don't understand what is at stake. But Jesus understands that His temporal defeat will be an eternal victory. That is the good news. That is the very heart of the gospel.
But the difference here is in the matter of trust. Who do you trust? Do you trust your own faculties? Do you trust someone else to rescue you? Our Lord knew that He would die, but He also knew that His death would conquer death. He knew that His temporal suffering would be an eternal end to suffering for those who believed. Qoheleth's warning goes out to those who put their trust in vanities. Jesus' warning goes out to those who think that we will glide through life unscathed. Jesus said in Matthew and Luke, if you want to be my disciple, pick up your cross and follow me—not "Hop in your Jaguar and follow me," but the way of suffering. Jesus was not on board with the prosperity gospel. He preached the way of suffering and self giving, because the only way to get out of this constant bustle for more—for mine, for my own... is through self sacrifice.
And He lived it. That there is our reminder of His self giving. And that is the way of our own redemption.