Today's Lectionary Text
What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.
I have always experienced sadness when reading the book of Ecclesiastes.
Here is the man who, upon being named the successor to his father David, asked God for “an understanding heart so that I may govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong.” (1 Kings 3:9) But he starts Ecclesiastes, his reflection on the meaning of life, with those immortal words, “Emptiness! Emptiness! All is emptiness!” And he goes into full self-pity mode from there. By the time he gets to this passage he tries to convince the reader that even the working stiffs who don’t realize how hopeless life is would be as depressed as he if they knew what he knew. What, you don’t hear him say that? Let’s read verse 15 again, from a couple of different translations:
“Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.” (NIV)
“What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again.” (NLT)
He seems to be caught in a trap of downward-spiraling, fatalistic depression. Well, that’s a buzzkill to find in the Bible. But I have to ask you, have you ever known a fellow-Christian that just seemed to be faking Christian joy? Have you ever faked it yourself? Can we even admit that a Christian could find him/herself in a struggle with this?
But an honest reading of Ecclesiastes tells us that King Solomon was struggling with this. And there are signs in Solomon’s life that could actually explain how one might get to this point. Let’s break them down:
1. After being anointed to the position and gifted by God, there is no indication that Solomon ever thought he needed God. He never cried out to God for help, or confessed to God that he messed up.
2. His only recorded prayers were when he was telling God how to do His job. (Read 1 Kings 8:22-53)
3. He repeatedly ignored God’s rebukes for his moral failings, unlike his father David. (1 King 11:9-10)
But it’s not just the King of Israel who could be guilty of these behaviors. Don’t all of us sometimes believe we have a handle on this Christianity stuff? Might not some of our prayers sound a little bossy to God? Don’t we sometimes rationalize in us what we would recognize as sin in another? Well, maybe you don’t, but I’m guilty of all three. Which is why I resolve to start each day this year with a prayer that will go something like this:
Lord, I desire to be a person who reflects Your righteousness today, but I know my self-centered nature will get in the way. Help me stay focused on You; get my attention when I look away; fill my heart with what You desire, not what I desire. Remind me to return often to You in prayer, and help me seek Your will in all I do today. Amen.
-Rev. Bruce Ferguson
Jerusalem Road Parish
This Week's Lectionary
This Week's Liturgical Color