Tag Archives: Ecclesiastes 3

Re the Daily Office Readings June 4 Anno Domini 2020

The Readings: Ecclesiastes 3:16––4:3; Galatians 3:1-14; Matthew 14:13-21

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (Jn. 20:25). There’s theological integrity here, securing Thomas’ place as the spiritual, if not biological, descendant of the teacher in our first reading, an integrity particularly on display in this reading.

“I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work.” If “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (v.1); surely that must include judgment. But as the teacher repeatedly observes (e.g., 7:15; 8:14) judgment is not visible in this life. Judgment is part of the tradition the teacher’s received, and the teacher’s too aware of the limitations of his knowledge to toss it prematurely. What about the life to come as the setting for judgment?

A bit of background: until well into the time under Persian and later Greek domination, most Jews believed that at death everyone descended to Sheol, where there was neither reward nor punishment, simply disconnection from the living and from God. In part to answer the question of where God’s justice happens, some Jews variously reconceptualize the afterlife. It’s one of the issues that splits the Pharisees, who affirm the resurrection and Sadducees, who deny it. In today’s text the teacher responds to this emerging argument: “All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?”

Integrity. Opting for the human spirit going upward would have answered many of the teacher’s questions. But, lacking evidence, “who knows?” Nor does the teacher discard “God will judge the righteous and the wicked.” The teacher preserves the tension. Complains about it. Repeatedly. And that’s perhaps as close as the teacher comes to praying in the book.

Postscript: Pulling back the camera to include today’s other readings, while the New Testament retains divine judgment (e.g., Matt. 25:31-45), it stresses more the need we all have for divine mercy.

Re the Daily Office Readings June 3 Anno Domini 2020

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The Readings: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15; Galatians 2:11-21; Matthew 14:1-12

“He brings everything to pass precisely at its time; He also puts eternity in their mind, but without man ever guessing, from first to last, all the things that God brings to pass” (NJPS).

Translations of the verse vary. “He hath made everything beautiful in his time” (KJV) is equally possible for the beginning of the verse. NRSV paraphrases ‘eternity’ as “a sense of past and future”; others, “the world”; others, assuming a textual error, “toil.” Nevertheless, the general sense is clear. It’s not that God is absent or inactive, but that the speaker can’t make out what God is doing.

This inability is clearly a source of pain, and the speaker is all over the map in the implicit evaluations of God’s conduct.

Is the situation different if we pull the camera back to include the rest of the Bible? On the one hand there is the Great Story running from Genesis to Revelation whose highlights we Christians celebrate in the course of the Church Year. On the other hand, there’s the experience of Abraham, recipient of splendid promises of posterity and land, who remains childless for decades after receiving the promises and has to negotiate for a place to bury his wife. Or Jacob, in his self-description on meeting Pharaoh: “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage” (KJV).

It’s not that the speaker doesn’t know the Great Story; it’s that where the speaker is living it doesn’t help. So with us, and in these places the speaker isn’t a bad traveling companion. “Two are better than one…  For if they fall, one will lift up the other” (4:9-10).