Vanity of Vanities
18th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Oh, the folly of vanity. The first thing one thinks of regarding vanity is how good we look or how good our stuff makes us look. The author of Ecclesiastes says,
“What does it profit a person to toil with anxiety of heart with for which he has labored under the sun? All his days are sorrow and grief.”
This sounds so discouraging and seems to say, don’t bother working so hard because it’s all for nothing anyway. Rather, he is saying that it does matter what you work for and it isn’t the vanities of this world.
I’m reminded of a time that I was teaching in an impoverished community where there was little motivation to work since wages were low and the education level of most residents was minimal. Few went further than eighth grade. One day I asked my third graders what they wanted to do when they grew up. Their goals were pretty low and involved little education.
Some said maybe they’d work at Walmart so they could get a discount or just be a housewife. One boy said. “I’ll just sit on the porch and wait for the check to come.” Already his view of work or bettering his position was that working was “in vain”. Why bother when I can just wait for the money to come to me. It was nearly impossible to instill any pride of accomplishment or generate a dream for a better future.
This is not the futility that is being written about in Ecclesiastes. He is not saying don’t labor but don’t let earthly vanities so consume you that when life ends you have to leave it all behind. You can’t take it with you, as they say. It puts me in mind of the Carly Simon song, “You’re So Vain” singing about a lover that was a narcissist who struts into a room like walking onto a yacht with one eye in the mirror and of course he was at every game, he’s where he should be all the time and when he’s not, he’s with the wife of a close friend--he’s so vain! This is the vanity to avoid.
This is so like the vanity we see everyday. Watch people shopping or at the malls. It so amazing how so many are consumed with useless vanities. Why should my clothes sport some name brand for all to see! It advertises that I am in the ‘in group”. Frankly they should pay the wearer to be a walking bill board for them! Once a lady gushed about a blazer I was wearing because she recognized the style and knew the brand which was not written on the outside. I had to laugh because it was already dated and I had bought it at GoodWill! Vanity of vanities and all is vanity. Ecc 1:2
Lying awake at night being anxious about our projects is a vanity if all the stress is about being the best, creating the best or winning a top spot. It isn’t really worth stressing your heart, damaging your health and relationships over things that have no bearing on your eternal destiny. No it’s vain glory, empty glory. In this world we have excessive pride in nearly every area of life leading us to spend too much time and money on superficial appearances, houses, cars, clothes, schools and cosmetic frippery. None of it brings lasting happiness because we always want more or better or the newest. In social situations it’s so boring to be with people who talk endlessly about themselves, their work, their stuff etc. It’s just the hot air of self centered people . As Carly would say, “I bet you think this song is about you”. Yup, it’s about you succumbing to peer pressure or advertisers pressure.
The Book of Ecclesiastes is a wisdom book and the author is pointing out that so much of what people think is important and can’t live without is just so much air. It has no lasting value. Rather, as Jesus said we should seek that pearl of great price, the things of eternity and give everything we have to acquire that which will last for our souls salvation.