Life & Soul

Word This Week

Ecclesiastes is attributed to Solomon, depicted by the Russian painter Isaak Asknaziy

‘Vanity of vanities, the Preacher says. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity!” The Book of Ecclesiastes is ascribed to the proverbial wisdom of King Solomon. Almost certainly it belongs to a much later period, probably to the uncertain years immediately preceding the birth of Christ. Its prevailing mood, clearly demonstrated in the words above, was one of widespread disillusionment. It was as if generations of faith no longer spoke clearly to the meaning of life. In seeking to answer where happiness was to be found, it questioned the priorities of every generation.

Like the Preacher, we must have the courage to question the priorities on which our lives are built. Like the Preacher, we too will have known the disillusionment and confusion that has mocked past dreams. Above all, we must turn to Christ, who came in answer to the bleak emptiness represented in the reflections of Ecclesiastes. We must, in the words of St Paul, have the faith to believe that our lives are hidden in Christ, and that in him alone lies the meaning of our lives.

That our lives are frequently dominated by superficialities is clearly demonstrated in the Gospel. Presented with the life that was Jesus, some disciples sought to reduce his presence to the level of their own petty disputes: “Master, tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance.” Jesus questioned not only their dispute, but also the underlying values that had brought them into contention. “Watch and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than enough.”

We also should have the humility to realise that an inflated understanding of who we are, and what is our due, can lead to dissension and unhappiness. Above all, we should guard against the possessiveness that undermines our true value as the
children of God.

If a full barn could not secure a place with God for the rich man, we must have the courage to ask how we make ourselves rich in the sight of God. The answer must surely lie not so much in what we have and desire, but in the way in which we relate to each other and to God.