And all things are scattered to the wind.
A friend of mine has a new Tesla. It’s the top of the line car, the model X. It has everything, including a feature called Summon, that literally parks or retrieves his car from its parking space automatically while he stands on the sidewalk. It cost him $115,000. It’s a beautiful thing, this car, and as he was letting me take the wheel in it for a few blocks around Manhattan, I felt like I was experiencing how the 1% live.
We stopped at a light. I looked over at the sidewalk. A couple with their newborn baby were standing there, his mother holding him in her arms. He couldn’t have been more than a week old. When he’s old enough to drive, I suddenly thought, this car will be junk. When he’s old enough to drive, will I even be around to drive in it?
I thought about his birth. In the beginning there was nothing but bare skin, a little blood, some mucus. A loud cry from a little mouth--wahhhhh!---the announcement of the arrival of a life.
I looked at the car, I looked at the baby. The baby, the car. I looked at the skin on my hands holding the steering wheel.
In the end, when my time has come, it will be bare skin again, wrinkled and spotted, a little blood, some mucus, and a long, low letting-go murmur. And in between, the struggle for the acquisition, of a new car, a new house, new clothes, whatever….so much junk. Vanity of vanities.
The wind blows—whhhhh—morning goes, evening comes—whhh—the glass is filled, the glass is emptied, all things are scattered to the wind. I looked around my room after I returned to the rectory. Who will fight over my great treasures if I die? If I die, what are they going to do with all this junk? If I die? If ? Who am I kidding?
There’s a wonderful old movie called The Gods Must Be Crazy. The film begins in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa. A pilot in a private plane throws his empty Coke bottle out of the window. It falls to the ground lands near an aboriginal Bushman who is on a hunting expedition. He has never seen anything like it before—glass, for the first time, and in a beautiful shape. He believes that the gods have sent him a gift from heaven. He takes the Coke bottle back to his tribe, his poor community which shares everything with one another as the gods have provided. They live in complete harmony and peace. Well, they are all equally amazed at this gift from the gods. And they put it to dozens of uses: it becomes a musical instrument, a patternmaker, a fire starter, a cooking utensil, and, most of all, an object of bitter controversy. You see, it is the only one of its kind, and everybody in the tribe ends up fighting over possession of the bottle—the idea of private property arising for the first time in the community. At one point someone actually picks the bottle up and uses it as a weapon, hitting its pursuer on the head.
Greed, anger and aggression—and most importantly the desire for power---suddenly arrives in this gentle society, the sins of a world that allows it’s members to own things.
And so the Bushman who discovered the bottle concludes that the gods must have been crazy to send them this gift, and he decides to return it to them by journeying to the end of the world and throwing it back to them.
The other day I was at the Strand bookstore, and I picked an old book off a table on a sidewalk. I looked at it for a moment, flipping through the pages. Suddenly I began to tear up. There were notes in the margins: "yes", "man versus nature", " I disagree", a question mark or two beside some dense passages. But then I turned a page and saw a few greasy smears, and next to them, written in soft pencil, by a beautiful girl, I could tell, whom I would never meet—"Sorry about the butter stains, but I'm in love". And it made an instant lump in my throat, tears to my eyes, these words from some long ago lover, probably long dead.
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” My mama always used to say that we never really 'own' anything in this world, that what we have is just lent to us for a while—to use as we see fit—and then it passes out of our hands and into someone else's. Kinda like 'on loan', 'leased', 'chartered'. Your house, your land, your car, your clothes, your jewelry, your tools, your toys. We never really own anything in this world, do we?
The wind blows—whhhh—morning goes, evening comes—whhh—the glass is filled, the glass is emptied, all things are scattered to the wind. Bare skin to bare skin. But love remains. The only thing that ever really remains, is, of course, love. With a lump in the throat and a tear in your eye, your heart soars at the words, "Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love.
I told my mother about that, as I tended to the flowers on her grave. She would have smiled. Suddenly I stopped, looked over at the mighty Hudson River, flowing majestically below the hill where she is buried. That river, like all rivers, just keeps rolling along. But in a thousand years, I thought, what will have become of her grave? Even a grave, surely, is just lent to us for a while, to use as we see fit, and then it passes out of our hands and into someone else's.
A thousand years from now, what will become of your house, your land, your Tesla, your clothes, your portrait, even your grave?
Vanities of vanities! All things are vanity! That great book of Ecclesiastes cuts right to the heart of it, and so does Jesus in his parable about the rich man who stores enough riches to eat, drink and be merry, and just as he is about to have a ball, he finds out that it’s all over that very night.
It is fitting that on the cross, Jesus is stripped of everything. Take a look. Go ahead, look at him. Where are his possessions, his treasures? Where’s his leather seats, his cruise control, his GPS? His whole life was a stripping away of everything that wasn't needed, but for the one thing that was there in the beginning, that remained in the end, bare skin to bare skin. The only thing that ever really remains, is, of course, his love, for me and for you.
What we have, in the end, is just a little time. Not a lot, but a little. Time--a gift from heaven lent to us for our temporary use here on earth, that's the lesson of today's readings. Every single day, my brothers and sisters, is another piece of heaven sent to us to use in a Godly way. God loves us, each and everyone, and what we are given, loaned, leased, chartered in love, is a little bit of time. There is a world out there with rivers of indifference, injustice, inhumanity—where innocent people are murdered in El Paso because someone has been taught to hate their difference, a world out there where prisoners are tortured, where the poor are forgotten, where children are neglected, where jealously rages, greed is justified, grief is unnoticed.
You know, much has been given most of us. Most of us have been incredibly blessed in our lives. And to whom much is given, much is asked as well.
The bad news of the good news today is that our time is short, and that there is nothing in this world that is truly ours for the keeping, even our life, for long after we're gone and forgotten, that old river will just keep rolling along.
The good news today is that it doesn't matter—we are already new women and new men, our lives hidden now with Christ, but soon enough we will be summoned, and appear with him in our glory. For this is one thing that is ours to keep forever, that is not loaned, chartered or leased to us: the love that God has for you and for me.