For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by. Eccles. 3:1-15.
Today’s reading from the Daily Office is taken from the book of Ecclesiastes. We don’t know much about the writer of this book, who is generally referred to as Qoheleth, often translated as The Preacher or The Teacher. Although the early Church attributed these writings to King Solomon, The Teacher probably lived much later, about 200-300 years before Jesus.
In the first section of the poem, The Teacher offers 14 pairs of events and their antipodes (keeping and throwing away, killing and healing, seeking and losing), which seem to offer a vision of a sort of balance within the universe. Throughout the ancient world, the belief in specific, appropriate times ran very deep. They looked for the right time to plant, to harvest, to build a house, or to begin a battle.
Aligning one’s actions with divinely set times offered the best chance for success. In a way, Jesus himself seems to have echoed this notion, having on one occasion told his mother “My hour has not yet come.” John 2:4; see John 7:6. . Later, in the Upper Room with the disciples, he said, “Father, the hour has come.” John 17:1. At a minimum, Jesus had a keen sense of divine time, and of working within God’s chronology.
The Teacher suggests that both within our lives, and within time itself, creation moves toward a kind of equilibrium. The teacher also struggled, as many of us do, with questions about the real point of our existence, about the meaning of our sorrows and our joys. Throughout all the seasons of our lives, God remains the only constant, and God alone remains sovereign. Jesus announced that quite clearly when He told us, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near ….” Mark 1:15. (Interestingly, these are the very first words the Savior speaks in Mark’s Gospel.)
Although we struggle and strive, our efforts are mere vanities, as though we were “chasing after the wind.” Eccles. 4: 16. None of our efforts will add to or subtract from God’s work. As Rabbi Heschel taught, we will not be able to locate the meaning of our lives abstracted or apart from God. As the Teacher observed, most of our work, and almost of all of the things we worry about, will pass away. He tells us, however, that “whatever God does endures forever.” Because we know that God loves us, we know that His love for us therefore will live forever. In that, we find the good news, the Gospel.
May we feel that love today and throughout our time,
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis