The writer of Ecclesiastes continues to challenge American common sense. The text continues to point toward the worthlessness of pursuing wealth and power. This third week of Lent, as we contemplate the Christ who gave up divinity, who let go of boundless power and ageless life, in order to experience something better, it’s hard not to see the parallels.
Lent is the time of year we focus on self-denial, yet desire is not wrong. When we desire to enjoy life and the people in it, to be fully present in all we do, to give ourselves fully to each moment and each person, our desires are divine.
When we constantly reach for more, never finding a finish line, nothing could be less godly.
The easiest example to conjure are the most powerful among us, the presidents and bankers, the senators and CEO’s. But we all are guilty at times of allowing our desires to wander, of setting our sights not on goodness but on gain.
How does that everyday corruption show up in your own heart?
Below, you will find my reflection and paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 5 and 6, what it spoke to me. Read the text for yourself, if you wish, and let it speak to you.
Watch yourself when you approach God. Do it with a clean conscious, not offering ritual apologies for predictably bad choices. When you come to God in prayer, think before you speak. Maybe don’t say anything at all. All your effort leads to nothing more than delusions; all your words to nonsense. Just like alignment with God is better than apologies, it’s much better not to promise anything than to make a promise and break it. Don’t try to prove your holiness by making some showy vow and biting off more than you can chew. Be careful with your words, and keep silent when you might regret speaking. Careless words can undo careful effort.
Don’t be surprised by corruption and injustice. That’s what politicians do. All the profit of the people’s labor funnels upward.
“The one who loves money is never satisfied with money, and whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with income. This too is futile.” The pursuit of possessions is never ending, never providing for the enjoyment of the spoils, only more pursuit.
More tragedy strikes: wealth comes and goes, sometimes unrelated to the efforts of the ones who work so hard to accumulate it. In the end, everyone loses any collected possessions. Naked we come, and naked we go. And worse, when money is your everything, every day is nothing more than darkness, sorrow, sickness, and anger.
Here it was it good, instead. We can eat, drink, and find the good in every experience, even as we labor and work for what we have. Rather than the darkness of the never satisfied craving for wealth, we find the joy of satisfaction in the lives we live of truly experiencing the details. When we accept that gift in God’s presence, we don’t spend our time worrying about the future but are busy enjoying the present.
Here is another tragedy, much like the first: God allows someone to hoard wealth, to feed the hunger for more possessions, but the hunger is never satisfied and satisfaction never follows. Instead, someone else who never worked for it will reap the benefits. It’s as pointless as trying to focus on fumes. Or someone may build an empire and a legacy, but if that person did not enjoy the truly good things in life, even living long and dying well leaves him worse off than the child who never lived long enough to be born. The never-born fetus is more at peace than that person. If he gains everything and lives thousands of years but is never truly happy, don’t both wind up dead?
If effort is only about reaching some goal and not about enjoying the work, it’s a pointless venture.
What is the point of being in the know, of having every social grace, and impressing the crowd? Desire is better served when it is for something present than some nebulous idea. Yet, it’s all pointless and like grabbing at the wind.
What is, is. What will be, will be. We are limited, and resisting reality and the One who forms it is worse than pointless. We ramble on, pouring out words, trying to convince each other we know better, but it really is all pointless. We scheme and plan, but we can’t know what’s coming next.
Much of what drives us to prioritizing possessions over people is not malice. We think we’re working hard to make something of ourselves. We think we’re preparing something for the future, being responsible to plan long term. It’s evil just the same. We can work as hard as we want, but tomorrow may not even come, let alone be shaped how we expect it to be.
If we prioritize the success of tomorrow over the people of today, we trade good for evil and are complicit in the ruin of our own hearts.
The antidote is truly experiencing and allowing ourselves to enjoy the good that God gives us at every stage of life and in each and every day.
Lord, keep us ever mindful of your humility, your leading us into servanthood, your rejection of power and your expectation that we obey you by following in your way.
You don’t want our apologies, you want our hearts and genuine actions for real-life people. Rituals and right words mean nothing, but seeking justice and celebrating joy are what you desire.
Help us to pay attention to the moment, to remember who we know and forget our unending quest for advancement. Reveal that quest for the futile striving for control we can never achieve that it really is.
When we learn to let go and love, we find you. May it always be so.