From Qoheleth to the Christ

Russian Icon of the Crucifixion, late 16th century

25th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Ecclesiastes 11:9—12:8, Psalm 90, Luke 9:43b-45

Rejoice, O young man, while you are young 
and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart,
the vision of your eyes;
Yet understand that as regards all this
God will bring you to judgment.
Ward off grief from your heart
and put away trouble from your presence,
though the dawn of youth is fleeting.

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, 
before the evil days come 
And the years approach of which you will say, 
I have no pleasure in them; 
Before the sun is darkened, 
and the light, and the moon, and the stars, 
while the clouds return after the rain; (Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:2)

The wiser, older Qoheleth took the young under his wings and exhorted them to enjoy their fleeting days of agility and health, conducting themselves well in the sight of God. 

For all will vanish in the blink of an eye:

You turn man back to dust,
saying, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight 
are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night. (Psalm 90:3-4)

With poetic imagination, a poignant image of the young person’s imminent future was depicted by Qoheleth. Common allegorical interpretations for the poetic figures are found in the footnotes of the New American Bible:

When the guardians (arms) of the house tremble, 
and the strong men (legs) are bent, 
And the grinders (teeth) are idle because they are few, 
and they who look through the windows (eyes) grow blind; 
When the doors (lips) to the street are shut, 
and the sound of the mill (mastication) is low;
When one waits for the chirp of a bird, but all the daughters of song (voice) are suppressed; 
And one fears heights, and perils in the street; 
When the almond tree blooms, (white hair of old age) 
and the locust grows sluggish (stiffness in movement of the aged)
and the caper berry (stimulant for appetite) is without effect, 
Because man goes to his lasting home, and mourners go about the streets; 
Before the silver cord is snapped and the golden bowl is broken, 
(The golden bowl suspended by the silver cord was a symbol of life)
And the pitcher is shattered at the spring, (death)
and the broken pulley falls into the well, (death)
And the dust returns to the earth as it once was, 
and the life breath returns to God who gave it. 

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, 
all things are vanity! (Ecclesiastes 12:3-8)

In the face of the meaninglessness of aging and death, Qoheleth found solace in virtuous conduct and the enjoyment of the short life allotted to him: “I recognized that there is nothing better than to be glad and to do well during life. For every man, moreover, to eat and drink and enjoy the fruit of all his labor is a gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13). 

Life may be empty and futile—vanity of vanities!—but one can still rejoice and be glad in God’s gift of life. Cheers!

What a shock, then, to hear from the sage of sages, the Messianic Son of David, that he intended to embrace a violent death in the bloom of youth:

While they were all amazed at his every deed, Jesus said to his disciples, “Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about this saying (Luke 9:43b-45).

Miracles, healings, signs and wonders evoked the spring of youth, life, and vitality. Jesus himself was young and robust. The wintry blast of icy death in his prediction of his betrayal and passion made no sense. Nor did anyone wish to probe the matter with questions. Ignorance was bliss. 

-GMC

2 Replies to “From Qoheleth to the Christ”

  1. A prayer inspired by your post: In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. May we wait in the Lord as sacred knowledge reveals itself to us. And as we wait, may simple prayers abound. May our older years be Grace filled and may we be cheerful no matter what comes. May we teach our young that their favorite expression, YOLO (You Only Live Once) , is in Christ, not themselves. And help them grow older aright. We ask this through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

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