Au In the beginning was the Word

1.- The Ecclesiastes (in Hebrew cohélet, man of the assembly) introduces himself like the author of the book of the same name and like David’s son (Ecl 1, 1). Due to that the book is attributed to Salomon. Nevertheless, the pseudonym doesn’t fit very well to the famous king; besides, why should he use it? The author is a wise man, who taught doctrine to his people (12, 9). May be, he lived about the third century B.C., immerse in the Greek culture. He applied his heart to meet the wisdom (1, 17), he watched what happens under the sun (1, 9), all is meaningless (1, 2) and chasing the wind (1, 14). He is a believer, but he is not an ingenious. His look is critical: realism?, pessimism?, relativity in relativities?, God´s word?

2.- The author has a long vital route: he has searched happiness in the pleasure (2, 1), he has lived like a king (palaces, wealth, servants, tributes), like no one of his predecessors in Jerusalem (2, 3- 11). Nevertheless, he says all is vanity, the wisdom, the eagerness, the fatigues: If the fate of the fool will be mine as well, what did my wisdom profit me?... The wise man dies the same that the fool… I hated all I had laboured for under the sun and which I must leave to my successor. Who knows whether he will be foolish or wise? (2, 15-19)

3.- Death levels all people, wise and foolish, rich and poor. It is the same fate (9, 2-3). The Ecclesiastes inspires Jorge Manrique´s (1440 – 1478) ballads, written at his father’s death: “Our lives are the rivers / that go to the sea / that is to die. /… close, they are equal / those who live on their hands / and those rich”, “see how little value / have the things we walk / and run after”, “therefore there is no strong matter, / that to popes and emperors / and prelates / death deals with them / in the same manner that with the poor shepherds / of flock”.

4.- Iniquity and impiety are where they shouldn’t: I have also seen under the sun, instead of justice, wickedness, and in the place of the just, the wicked (3, 16), another evil I discovered under the sun, an error of rulers: folly is exalted to the heights (10, 5-6). Saint Therese (1515 – 1582), who closely experienced Saint John of the Cross´ excommunication, had seen it all before. To avoid forgetting it, he carries this small verse in her breviary: “Nothing disturb you / nothing scare you / all goes by / God does not move / patience all reaches, / the one who is with God / nothing misses, / only God is enough”. 

5.- Violence and injustice fly everywhere, it would be better don´t see it: I considered the tears of the oppressed, and no one to console them; the violence f the oppressors and no one to hold them back. More fortunate are the dead for being dead, that the living who have to live, and even more fortunate than both is the one not yet born (4, 1-3). Besides, all is justified: If you see the poor oppressed, right and justice denied, do not be surprised, for over a high-placed official a higher one watches, and over both of this a still higher one watches. Common interest and king’s service will be invoked (5, 7 -8).

6.- The same will happen with the successor, there is not possible to make up false illusions. He will not leave a good memory: Better a youth who I poor and wise than a fool of an old king who shuns advice… I saw all who live under the sun follow the youth, the successor, who replaced the latter, and there was no end to the people who sided with him; and yet those who will come after will not be satisfied (4, 13-16).

7.- Other vanity, ambition and wealth: A man alone, without successor, without son or brother, working endlessly, his greed never satisfied with wealth (4, 8). For whom does he get tired? Jesus advises not accumulate wealth: Who shall get all you have put aside? (Lk 12, 20). Nobody can take away the money: Whoever loves money will not be satisfied with money; whoever loves wealth hasn’t sufficient income. This is also vanity. Where there is abundance of good things there is abundance of consumers… Naked he came from his mother’s womb; he returns as he came – naked, Nothing of the fruit of his toil is he able to take with him (Ecl 5, 9-14).

8.- An absurd takes place in the earth: The righteous are treated as the wicked deserve, and the wicked as the righteous deserve (8, 14; see Psalm 73). A bad moment anyone has, but man ignores when: Just as fish are caught in the treacherous net… man, like them, is caught by misfortune suddenly falling on him (Ecl 9, 12).

9.- The wisdom of the poor that could have saved the besieged city is despised: But a poverty-stricken wise man was found, who by his wisdom could have saved the city; but nobody recalled him. So I said: Better wisdom than heroism, but the wisdom of the poor is despised and his words are not listened (9, 15-16).

10.- Then, nothing makes sense? everything is an absurd? No, there is a given time for everything: A time for giving birth, a time for dying; a time for planting, a time for uprooting… a time for mourning, a time for dancing… a time for embracing, a time to part… a time to be silent, a time to speak… a time for war, a time for peace… I considered the task God gave to the sons of men. He made everything fitting in its time.

11.- It is necessary to take advantage of the moment: Go, eat your bread with gladness and drink your wine joyfully; this is God´s approval of your work… Enjoy life with the wife you love all the days of the meaningless life given to you by God under the sun, for this is your lot in life… Fulfil your projects while you are able, for among the dead where you are going there is no work, no planning, no knowledge, no wisdom.  (9, 7 – 10) Are we before the Horace’s carpe diem (capture the day)? Let us eat and drink that tomorrow we will die? (1 Co 15, 32). Ecclesiastes´ vision is that of a believer: The one who eats and drinks, he gets that from God… he gives wisdom, knowledge and joy (Ecl 2, 25-26).

12. - Mutual help is important: Happier two than one alone, for their work brings a higher salary and when one falls, the other lifts up his companion. Unfortunate he who is alone and has no one to lift him up… Triple- stranded thread is not easily broken (4, 9-12). It is necessary to sow to make possible to harvest: Cast your bread on the water for after a given time you will find it again. Share with seven or even with eight for you never know what misfortune may strike the earth (11, 1-2).

13.- Several advises: An honourable name is better than perfumed oil (7,1), better to reach the end than to begin (7, 8), do not ask why former times were better than the present, it is not wisdom what prompts such a question (7, 10), wisdom makes the wise man stronger than ten rulers in the city (7, 19), God made men simple, but they get lost in their many thoughts (7, 29), whoever obeys a royal precept avoids trouble (8, 5), as dead flies spoil a jar of perfumed oil, a little folly weighs heavier than wisdom and honour (10, 1), writing many books would be useless, and intense study wearies the body (12, 12). An important observation: such as it appears, the vision about the woman is negative and unjust (7, 26-28).

14.- We don´t know Gods work, his action: Just as you do not know how the spirit pervades the members in the mother’s womb, neither will you understand the work of God, creator of all things (11, 5). In the psalm 73 it is said: I failed to understand, I was like a stupid beast in your presence. We miss the Gospel’s experience, which uncovers God´s action in the history: The mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you

15.- In any case, God´s fear matters: I understand that the just, the wise and all they do are in the hands of God (Ecl 9, 1), God will judge the just and the wicked (3, 17), watch your step when you go to God´s house. It is better offering to listen, than to present sacrifices as do the fools (4, 17), don´t be impulsive and hasty with words in the presence of God (5, 1), rejoice, young man, in your youth… may your heart give you joy… but recall that God will take account of all you do (11, 9), be mindful of your Creator when you are young, before the time of sorrow comes when you have to say, this gives me no pleasure… while… the pitcher does not break at the fountain, or the wheel at the mill, or the dust returns to the earth… and the spirit returns to God (12, 1-7).

16.- Poet Gustav Adolph Becquer (1836 – 1870) replies to the Ecclesiastes in his written verses before the death and burial of a girl: “Does dust return to dust? / does the soul fly to the sky? / Is all rotten substance / putrefaction and mud? / I don´t know; but there is something / that I cannot explain / that at the same time instils on us / repugnance and mourning/ when dead people is left so sad / so alone!” Before the death, “the maximum enigma of human life” (GX 18), it is (especially) necessary to discover the Gospel’s good news and to receive one of its signals: dead are brought back to life (Mt 11, 5).

* Dialogue about what happens under the sun

- all is vanity, there is nothing new under the sun

- death levels everybody, wise and fool, rich and poor

- in the seat of the right, iniquity is installed

- violence and injustice spread everywhere

- same will happen with the successor, there is not possible to make up false illusions

- nobody can take the money with him, for whom will it be?

- the righteous are treated as the wicked deserve, and the wicked as the righteous deserve

- a bad moment reaches everyone, man ignores when

- poor´s wisdom is despised

- realism?, pessimism?, nothing has sense?, all is absurd?

- there is a given time for everything

- we must take advantage of the moment

- mutual help is important

- it is necessary to sow to be able to harvest

- are former times were better than the present ones

- the vision about the woman is negative and unjust

- we don´t know Gods work, his action

- God´s fear matters

- Gospel’s good news is needed

- is Ecclesiastes and inspired book?, is it God´s word?

- what experience do we have?, what do we listen?