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A guy successfully climbs up to the mountain of success. He has more money than he will ever spend, he is a king who rules over many nations so he wields great power, and he has vast wisdom and knowledge. Not many people can claim to have acquired so much in a lifetime. Most of us try to crawl our way up the mountain of success but do not get very far. It would be nice to know what it is like to be at the top. So this successful man writes to us to describe what happens when someone arrives at the top of the world. That is the book of Qoheleth, otherwise known as Ecclesiastes. And this is what Qoheleth has to say: “Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity.” The better translation of the Hebrew is “vapor,” not “vanity.” The familiar passage should read, “Vapor of vapors, all things are vapor.” Vapor has the unique ability to disappear completely before your very eyes. So my question is this, why would the guy on the top of the mountain of success call all his money, his power, and his wisdom vapor? What could cause all of these things to disappear before his very eyes? Death. 

In the ancient world, they didn’t have YouTube, so they had time to think about things like death. And they wondered what it would be like to die. And this is the answer they come up with: the hearse does not need a trunk for the luggage.

In the parable of the rich fool, there is a farmer who has an enormously successful harvest. He builds a bigger barn to hoard his success for himself. He thinks he has future security. But there is no such thing as future security. The certainty of death takes away all future security. That is why God calls him a fool because he thinks he has what he can never possess: future security.

Remember the parable of the master who gives talents to three servants, and one of the servants buries the money? Why does he do that? Because there are a thousand ways to lose money in the ancient world. You can take that five talents in the Gospel and buy a boatload of grain, knowing that your investment will double on its arrival at the next port. If the boat sinks, however, you lose your money. You could take your five talents to the bank, but there is always the risk in the ancient world that the bank will be robbed. You will lose your investment. You can give your money to an investor, and he could be run over by a Roman chariot and again, you lose your talents. The smartest way to secure your money in the ancient world was to dig a hole and bury your money. Everyone did it. So then why is the servant who did the safe, commonly accepted thing in burying the talent, why is that servant the bad guy? Because when the talent is in the ground, it is able to help anyone above ground.

Now let’s return to the farmer with the bountiful harvest and let’s retell that parable with a happy ending. It would go something like this: There was a farmer who had a rich harvest. He said to himself, “Where am I going to put all of my food; my barns are not big enough, I know what I will do. My neighbor Joe, who has a potato farm, just lost his entire crop to bugs. I will fill up his empty barn, so he has something to live on this year. I just saw Paul at the general store the other day, and I asked him about his wheat field. He told me that his wife got cancer and he had to took care of her. He has no wheat this year. I will fill up his empty barn as well.” Then the man said, “God gave me extra this year so I could fill empty barns.” He dies, and two years later he looks down and to check out his neighbors. He sees that his neighbors are now filling other people’s empty barns. Naturally, the man is happy because he left behind a legacy. He made an impact on the world. Why does God give us gifts, talent, skills, and material wealth? It is not just for us; it is to help fill the emptiness of others.  We, like God, are called to turn curses into blessings. After all, we are God’s partners.

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