“This very night your life is being demanded of you.”
At last Sunday’s baptism service, we read a scripture passage about the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor. A second set of readings for this date amplifies on the meaning of baptism.
Our tradition holds that in the water of baptism a person is buried with Christ. By baptism we share in his resurrection. In the letter to the Colossians in the readings, Paul tells us that as persons baptized and raised with Christ, we must turn our minds to things above and set aside earthly things.
The other two readings offer examples of worldly preoccupation. The Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke’s gospel describes a rich man, having accumulated abundant possessions, who resolves to store them up in a warehouse and devote himself to selfish occupations: relax, eat, drink and be merry. God rebukes him: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
The reading from Ecclesiastes proclaims that God has given human beings an unhappy business to occupy themselves with. All deeds done under the sun are vanity and a chasing after wind. The author’s point is not so much that our striving is self-important and our achievements vacuous as that they are vaporous and our hold on them is fleeting. Everything we accumulate ends up in another’s hands. Life is not under our control. Have you ever felt like that? The advice in Ecclesiastes is to accept our lot in life, live honorably and leave the future to God.
Set against this is Paul’s call to the baptized to amend their lives, empty their emotional baggage and set their minds on revealing Christ in their lives. The foolishness of worldly preoccupations is revealed by the fact that our lives may be demanded at any time, but there is also a profoundly uplifting message here. God insists that our lives are needed, in fact required, for purposes beyond self-gratification. What greater antidote to vanity and hedonism than to be wanted, to be useful, to be demanded right now by God?