What is life all about? What's the meaning of it all? This is the underlying and perennial question for everyone. Even the Monty Python film of this title, for all its black and bawdy humour, wanted to ask the question in its own poignant way. And it is a question raised insistently by the readings for today's Mass.
The rich landowner in today's Gospel parable is simply concerned to make the most of the exceptional harvest for his own comfort. He is totally self-centred. 'I' and 'me' form the refrain of his soliloquy. He does not consider anyone else, nor reflect that death, whenever it comes, will deprive him of his wealth and pass it to others.
'The Preacher' of Ecclesiastes, in the first reading, regards it as a 'great injustice' that the fruits of his own toil and strain should go to someone who has not laboured for it. He is not glad that someone can inherit his riches. He certainly believes in God; but his God is incomprehensible in such a way that he dispenses pleasure and pain seemingly at random.
In common with the people of his time the Preacher is unconvinced about an after-life. So he reckons that the sensible way for him to live is to take what comes his way, hoping for maximum enjoyment and minimum effort for himself. His words are echoed by the rich landowner: 'take things easy; eat, drink, have a good time.'
These attitudes are familiar enough today. Our global market economy sees us all as producers and consumers, linked together simply by money. And the prevailing post-modernist culture regards all truths as relative and the affirmation of spiritual realities as a quaint personal fad.
It is easy to be seduced by all this. True, there is a widespread hunger for religion, expressed in New Age cults and the brittle certainties of exclusive sects. And these witness to the abiding human need. But too often these faiths depend on vague legends or fashions of spirituality, or on strong personalities whose 'gospels' turn out to be fraudulent.
In contrast, St Paul (in the second reading) points us to a vision of human reality based on the concrete facts of Christ's life, death and resurrection, and on our own actions in the here-and-now. God has
rescued us from the power of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col. 1:13).
buried with Christ in baptism, and raised with him through faith in the power of God (Col. 2:12).
Since we have been raised with Christ, we should
seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God'.
St Paul is not of course saying that we should become angels. That is not possible. The truly human life is one in which our present existence is seen and lived in the light of 'the things that are above, where Christ is'. For Christ is
the image of the invisible God ... in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Col. 1:15,19).
And so he gives us through his death and resurrection the fullness of all that is human.
That is why we put to death in us whatever is not of Christ: sexual impurity, greed (a form of idolatry), anger, malice, lying. These are simply not consistent with being 'raised with Christ'. Instead, the true human life should display compassion, humility, patience, forgiveness, love (Col. 3:12-14), all of them virtues that find concrete expression towards other people in the here-and-now. This is where we can find the meaning of life.
One recurring theme in Luke's Gospel is Jesus' practical compassion for all, especially the poor. 'Be on your guard against all kinds of greed,' he says, because this destroys human companionship. Remember Dives, who did not notice poor Lazarus at his door.
Our life, the truly human life, 'does not consist in the abundance of possessions'. Instead, it is found in those whose 'life is hidden with Christ in God', and who can consequently share something of his all-embracing love.