“In much wisdom is much vexation”

Today we began reading Ecclesiastes – it says it was written by “the preacher, the son of David, king of Jerusalem (1:1). We know this is Solomon and his first words are, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”.

What does vanity mean? The lexicon says the Hebrew word means, transitory, emptiness. Solomon is reviewing, apparently in his old age, all that he has accomplished in his life, he is overwhelmed by the feeling that in the final analysis it was all just “vanity” – he had accomplished nothing lasting.

He reflects, “all things are full of weariness” (verse 8), observing, “my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge” (verse 16) but he saw it as “a striving after wind” (verse 17). Tomorrow we will read his words, “then I considered all that my hands had done and all the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity” (2:11).

We wonder to what extent today we will (or already are) look back on a lifetime of striving to make and then spend money – and see it in the end as simply “vanity”? Also, those who fill so much of their ‘spare’ time with tweeting and twittering and relaxation with TV and DVDs for entertainment will see the ultimate emptiness of time spent in this way?

In contrast we saw today in John’s Gospel the intensity of thought and meaning in the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. As it reaches its climax his mind is centred on his disciples, “Holy Father keep them in your name … that they may be one, even as we are one” (17:11). Unity of mind, how wonderful!

Jesus continues, “they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (verses 17-19).

God’s word is “truth”, it alone reveals the ultimate meaning of life and takes us – in thought – beyond “this world”. Sanctify means to “be set apart” from the world so that the main focus of our minds – is on God and his ways and what is really true – in an everlasting sense. It is a truth we then take into our hearts and it becomes part of us.

Finally, how meaningful are the words of Jesus to Pilate, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (18:37). Skeptically Pilate asks, “What is truth?” (verse 38). Let us not be skeptical but read and “listen” to what we read and aim to fully possess “the wisdom from above” (James 3:17) so that our lives are “sanctified in truth”.