The Readings: Ecclesiastes 9:11-10:20; Galatians 5:1-15; Matthew 16:1-12
“Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them.”
Perhaps this is the place to say more about the early form of globalization that shapes the teacher’s context, in which local control and predictability become, well, like breath. William Brown in Wisdom’s Wonder: “In contrast to the largely subsistence, small-scale, agrarian-based economy of preexilic times, the economy of the Persian period became increasingly commercialized. A standardized monetary currency was established under Darius the Great (550-486 bce) to facilitate commerce between Egypt and Persia. Some two centuries later, under Ptolemy II (283-246 bce), coinage became firmly established in Yehud (as Israel was called in Persian times), yielding dramatic economic development. In addition, an aggressive system of taxation was introduced by the Persians and continued to be enforced and developed throughout Hellenistic times.”
The lectionary ends the first reading at 9:18; the above link expands it. The brief complaint about the social order upended is a familiar topos (meme) in wisdom literature, and we might wonder what the teacher would have made of the Magnificat! The teacher knows the stories of poor wise people (4:13-16; 9:13-16), but defaults to rich=wise, poor=fool, testimony to the trouble all of us have in escaping from our mental ruts. “Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a foul odor; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor” applies also to the teacher, and is perhaps a reminder to us not to be too indulgent with what we regard as our minor follies.