Homily for September 23rd, 2016: Ecclesiastes 3:1-11.
I told you yesterday that the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes, with its repeated refrain, “All is vanity,” is often called the most cynical book in the Bible. It brings us not good news, but the bad news that life is indeed empty, “vanity,” unless we center our lives on the Lord God. In the midst of this bad news, however, we come upon a passage that is like finding an oasis in a desert: the assurance which we heard in today’s first reading, that “There is an appointed time for every thing under the heavens.”
In words of great beauty the author, called Qoheleth, a word of uncertain meaning, often translated “the Preacher,” says that there is “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh . . . A time to be silent, and a time to speak.”
The full and rounded person makes time for each of these pairs of opposites. There are times when it is important to speak. At other times silence is more appropriate. When I entered seminary 68 years ago we newcomers were given a little book called “Principles.” One of them went like this: “The conversation of the brethren should help and cheer us, but God’s voice speaks most often in silence. Keep some part of every day free from all noise and the voices of men, for human distraction and craving for it hinder divine peace.” I’ve tried to do that in all the years since I first read those words.
About the final sentence in this short reading, Bible scholars have been disputing for over 2000 years. God “has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into [people’s] hearts.” What is this “timeless”? I believe it is the sense, inborn in us but rejected by the book’s author, that there is a world beyond this one, and a life beyond death. It is for this that we are born and made: to serve God, our loving heavenly Father, faithfully here on earth; but beyond that to be happy with him forever in heaven.