Thursday, 23 September 2010

Meaningless – chasing the wind

Ecclesiastes – Thursday 23 September 2010

Holy Communion at St Giles

Reading Ecclesiastes 1

2 "Meaningless! Meaningless!"
says the Teacher.
"Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless."

3 What does anyone gain from all their labours
at which they toil under the sun?

4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.

5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.

6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.

7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.

8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.

9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

10 Is there anything of which one can say,
"Look! This is something new"?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.

11 There is no remembrance of people of old,
and even those who are yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

Gospel Luke 9

7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 8 others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. 9 But Herod said, "I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?" And he tried to see him.


Ecclesiastes – comes between Proverbs and Song of Solomon. Takes form of monologue spoken by The Teacher.

Author adopts common ancient practice of setting philosophical teaching within series of speeches. Invents a character called Teacher, and comments on his words.

Words used, and knowledge of these writings by late authors leads us to believe written maybe only a couple of hundred years BC.

Commentary: ‘ideas of Teacher are notoriously confusing and contradictory.’

Summary: world is changeless – humans unable to comprehend what it all means or how it works – cannot make any impact on it.

Society is unjust and unfair – future unpredictable.

God has designed everything this way. All we can do is enjoy what we have – we are in no position to seek more – greater understanding will only lead to unhappiness.

Meant to be words of wisdom from wise man. Constantly comes back to word hebel - ‘meaningless.’ Lit: ‘breath of wind’ – transience, useless, deceptive. Vanity of vanities does not do it justice in the modern age.

Depressing? World is impervious to human effort. Humans are born, die and pass on but nature continues regardless. Reaches no end or conclusion. Each day, sun rises and sets then hurries back panting to its starting place.

Unchanging – might have been so in the Teacher’s time, but human beings today have found ever more damaging ways of despoiling the planet. Our quest for understanding is ever less futile. We can change things – cloning, stem cell research, manipulation of life itself, natural resources used up and not replaced. Today futility is not that the earth resists change but we can alter it too freely. Our efforts no longer meaningless or chasing the wind.

Here’s the value of this book for reflection on what has changed, and what is God’s part in all this? Amen

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