One of the interesting characteristics of the Hebrew language is that it has a relatively small vocabulary – especially in comparison to English. It is also a very concrete, practical language, with very few words that are merely conceptual. So when it comes time to try and describe something that is more abstract, Hebrew has to use a concrete word that hints at the deeper reality. So the opening line of our first reading today, from Ecclesiastes 1:2, is a perfect example of this. How do you describe something like vanity, when there is no word for this? Qoheleth, the preacher, the author of this small, mostly depressing book, chose the word “Hebel” – which means breath or vapour.
But even more than vanity, this word points towards the absurdity of life – something that is driven home in the Gospel today. A man in the crowd puts a demand to Jesus: Master, tell my brother to give me my share of the inheritance. It is not the role of the Rabbi to intervene in such disputes, so Jesus sets the man straight and then tells the parable of the man with a barn that is too small to hold the win-fall from a bumper crop. Unfortunately the man should not have got lost in his own thoughts and only his own concerns – but taken this problem to the rest of the community – who could have quickly pointed out that his bounty could easily be shared with the whole community, who no doubt would have been in desperate need of such abundance. But his anxiety would not let him see his own needs truly, let alone the needs of others. So he will be found wanting when the judgement upon his too-small-soul is made.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 7.30am (10mins)
Sunday 18, Year C. Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Luke 12:13-21