Our first reading today is from the book of Ecclesiastes. It is written in the voice of Qoheleth, a Hebrew word which means preacher or assemblyman. Qoheleth is identified traditionally as Solomon, who was the wisest man in the world. So here we have what are offered to us as reflections on terrific wisdom.
“Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth. All is vanity”! This is an old man, a king at that, who has seen it all. He has experienced everything the world has to offer and he says that all is in vain. All our accomplishments, our achievements, all that we see and experience and take in, at the end of the day, all of it is vanity and useless. He goes on: “Here is one who has laboured with knowledge and skill and he must leave all to another who has not worked for it. And I begin to despair in my heart over all my labour under the sun…”
If you want a dark despairing view of the world you won’t top this book! So what is it doing in the middle of the
Bible? In the book of Ecclesiastes there is a line repeated frequently; “under the sun.” And this is the key phrase. In other words he is looking at the world under the sun of ordinary experience. And what he is saying is, nothing here below will finally satisfy us or give us joy. If you are looking for what’s really going to fulfil you don’t look for it here.
St Augustine famously said: Lord you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” We are made for God, so
everything in this world is by definition less than satisfying. The greatest spiritual tragedy is hooking our infinite desire for God onto anything less than God, onto anything ‘under the sun.’ – Money, sex, power, authority, sensual pleasure, material things, whatever it is – that’s the temptation, and that’s why the book of Qoheleth is so powerful for us. He surveys all that terrain and says all is vanity.
In the Gospel Jesus tells one of his most powerful parables about a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself; “What shall I do, for I have no room to store my crops? And he said…I shall pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I shall store up all my grain and goods. And I shall say to my soul…eat drink and make merry. But God said to him, ‘you fool, this night your soul will be demanded of you.”
On this earth we are but in temporary residence. Our real home is in heaven. Today’s readings are reminding us of this truth.
Fr Anthony Mary