Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 11, 2016
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23
2Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
12I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind
18I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me 19—and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? 23For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
First, on the name “Ecclesiastes”: The books in the Hebrew Scriptures are almost all named for the first word in the book. In this case, the first word in this book is Koheleth, which means “the assembler” or “the instructor”. The Greek word for “Koheleth” is Ecclesiastes which means “the assembly” or “those assembled”. The book assembles wisdom sayings which are attributed to King Solomon.
Second, the word, “vanity”. We think of vanity as obsession with appearance. That is absolutely not what the Koheleth had in mind when writing this book. The Jewish Study Bible translates the word not as vanity but “utter futility”. This translation harkens to a less used definition of vanity, “the quality of being worthless or futile.” The actual word being translated is “hevel”, which literally means “wind, breath” which refers to the temporariness of all to which the Koheleth refers.
The Koheleth states the despair which he feels as he contemplates the meaning of his life’s work.
1Hear this, all you peoples; give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
2both low and high, rich and poor together.
3My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
4I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.
5Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me,
6those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?
7Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life, there is no price one can give to God for it.
8For the ransom of life is costly, and can never suffice
9that one should live on forever and never see the grave.
10When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others.
11Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they named lands their own.
12Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.
This is an unusual psalm in that it is not addressed to God, but to foreign peoples. The main theme is “Rich people should not be envied or emulated.” It is also unusual in that it speaks of the common fate of the wise and foolish, the faithful and unfaithful: all die, despite humanity’s hubris.
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.
8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
Paul offers a remedy to the emptiness humans find in daily toil to amass stuff: set your mind on Christ, who is all and in all. When one takes purpose and meaning in life from Jesus, then vices (verse 5 & 8) melt away into the puddle of self focus, and are replaced by the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, humility, gentleness, and self control.
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
“Who made me judge and arbitrator over you?” – In the same way that Martha tries to get Jesus to judge Mary and make her do what Martha wanted, so now this man approaches Jesus to get a favorable judgement. But Jesus refuses. From our point of view, that is exactly what God should do, judge between us and make us all behave. But Jesus rejects being boxed into the probate court bench, in favor of pointing us to real life.
“Those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” When we make decisions in self centered isolation, resisting the influence of the rest of the world, and God, we “are not rich toward God.” Jesus says, “Whoever has two coats must give one away.” This does not mean that you give away everything and freeze to death while others are warm in your old clothes. No, it means that you allow the wealth that God has entrusted to you to not only provide for you, but also for others.