Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23 (NRSV)
Verse 2Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
Verse 12I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, Verse 13applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. Verse 14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. Verse 18I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me Verse 19-and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. Verse 20So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, Verse 21because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. Verse 22What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? Verse 23For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
Though probably one of the latest writings in the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes has been traditionally associated with Solomon because of his reputation as the wisest of Israel’s kings. Whoever the writer, he laments, “all is vanity,” or in other translations, “meaningless,” “mist,” or “smoke.” As we age, we might identify with those sentiments: we have worked hard, but in the end, what did it all accomplish? “Is that all there is?” as jazz singer Peggy Lee wondered wistfully. If we looked up today’s reading hoping for an uplifting message, we might be sorely disappointed!
Or must we? The writer may sound like an old crank who resents leaving his riches to his clueless, young heirs. Yet he himself admits that harboring this resentment is not only vanity, but a great evil. He knows that there is more than the material success he has achieved, and that what he has accomplished is a gift from God meant to be given back to the world.
God of wisdom, in our questioning, searching, and disillusionment, help us trust you by using your gifts to serve others. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.