NOTE: Today, the Good News comes from the second lesson. For that reason, I have placed the gospel lesson ahead of the reading from Colossians.
ECCLESIASTES 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23
The readings for this week are very contemplative. We will reflect on the meaning of life. This subject can be depressing, if you let it. But it is a good thing to reflect on this subject, especially through the lens of a Christian faith.
- The writer begins by stating that everything is vanity. The book of Ecclesiastes was written in ancient Hebrew. The word translated here for vanity is very difficult to translate. Other words might include “temporary” or “vapor-like”. The meaning is clear. Life is fleeting and futile. Trying to make a meaningful life is a vexing, thankless task. (v. 2)
- The writer was not only a teacher, but a king of Israel. In the verses omitted from today’s passage, it tells us that he has sought meaning through wisdom. When this did not satisfy, he turned to pleasure—sensual, wealth, and the pleasure of hard work. These, too, did not satisfy. (v. 12)
- Most vexing to him was the fact that all his hard labor would be left to his successor. Because his successor did not toil for what he inherited, it would not be valued as it should. I believe we have all seen this occur in our own lifetimes. (v. 14)
- This passage’s conclusion is not a happy one—even at night our minds are restless. (v. 23)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
When I lived in the city, I spent a lot of time and money on creating a healthy lawn, just like all my neighbors had. I’d water and fertilize it, only to find that I had to mow it even more frequently. Looking back, it was a vain undertaking. So much of our daily lives are filled with meaningless tasks like this one. Which activities do you find meaningful? Which activities are “vanity”? I find that, at least for myself, doing the Lord’s work by serving others provides a level of fulfillment that is hard to find elsewhere.
Jesus is on the road, teaching his disciples and to those along the way.
- Someone asks Jesus to settle a family dispute regarding the distribution of the family inheritance. (v. 13)
- Jesus declines to get involved, but uses the opportunity to tell a parable. We’re told that this parable has to do with our tendency to focus on greed and hoarding our possessions. (vv. 14-15)
- You may know this story. A farmer is very successful. So much so that he needs bigger barns to store all his harvest. He builds them, and is content. (vv. 16-19)
- Just when the man thinks he has it made in the shade, God notifies him that his life is over. “Who’s gonna get your stuff now?” (v. 20)
- Jesus concludes by cautioning people who are rich. (v. 21)
It is important to note that Jesus is not condemning the rich. He is more concerned with how their wealth affects their outlook on life. Turning greedily inward is futile. Instead, he says that they should “be rich toward God”. Being “rich toward God” indicates a complete turnaround in focus from hoarding ones’ abundance.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
If you have lived through the Great Depression, or know someone who has, you are familiar with the compelling urge we sometimes have to hoard things. Having an abundance of “stuff” may bring a certain level of satisfaction, but does it provide a lasting peace?
This is the final reading that we will take from the letter to the Colossians. The lectionary ends with verse 11. I have added verses 12-14, since they are full of rich instruction for our daily lives.
Paul has praised them and encouraged them in their faith in Christ. He has reminded them that they have died with Christ and are alive with Christ.
- Oddly, then, Paul starts out this sentence “... if you have been raised with Christ…”. That is an amazing thing to say, since he has already praised them for their faith in Jesus. I think he’s using “if” rather than “since”, to challenge them to think “Of course I have been raised with Christ!”. Paul’s point in this paragraph is to encourage the readers to keep our focus on heavenly things, and not get burdened with the details of daily life. (vv. 1-4)
- Since we are “in Christ”, we should exterminate all those earthly negative things that drag us down. Paul presents a pretty good list here. (vv. 5-9a)
- But since (or if) we are “in Christ”, we have stripped off these old rags of negativity. Instead, we are clothed anew, in the image of our creator. We no longer look at our neighbors through the lens that divides, singling out racial and social differences. Instead, we acknowledge that we are all the same in the eyes of God. And this is what our new clothes look like: compassion, kindness, humility, forgiveness, and above all—love. (vv. 9b-14)
By setting our minds on “things that are from above”, we can find the true meaning of life. We will no longer share in the vexations of the writer of Ecclesiastes; live is no longer vanity. Life is rich in meaning and value, because we are living our lives “in Christ”, wearing the “clothes” described in verses 9-14.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
A teacher once told me that my salvation is not a one-time occurrence. Instead, it is an on-going salvaging operation. I know that I can “put to death” the earthly things Paul describes inverse 5. I have done this. But they seem to reappear, needing to be exterminated yet again and again. I need God’s continuing salvaging operation in my life. Perhaps we all do.