July 31, 2016 - Purposelessness

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!

Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill,
and yet to another who has not labored over it,
he must leave property.
This also is vanity and a great misfortune.
For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart
with which he has labored under the sun?
All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation;
even at night his mind is not at rest.
This also is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 1:2 2:21-23

The other readings this Sunday might allow us to think that God wants us to focus less on the accumulation of wealth and more on the accumulation of learning, wisdom, and good deeds.  How lovely and uncontroversial!  
But Ecclesiastes is more stark.  Qoheleth asserts that everything we do we do in vain, no matter how well intentioned.  Nothing we can accomplish will distinguish us from anyone else.  “All share a common destiny – the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who suffer sacrifices and those who do not.  As it is with the good, so with the sinful; as it is with those who takes oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them.” (9:2)  The accumulation of learning, wisdom and good deeds is, in the end, done in vain just as certainly as the accumulation of wealth.

This should remind us of the parable of the vineyard workers, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes - every parable and story and event in Scripture that indicates that God’s love is dispensed regardless of accomplishment or lack of accomplishment, to the deserving or undeserving, to the prodigal son and the loyal son, to the saints and the sinners alike.

It is shocking and maybe even a little intuitively repulsive – it may be natural for us to reject it and to persecute the messenger who brings it to us - but it is the divine narrative.

Photo: Newcomb Hollow Beach