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First Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

 2Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,   vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 12I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.  2:18I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me 19—and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? 23For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

From colleague and friend, Phil Heinze (Living the Lectionary):

The opening word of the teacher declares "Meaningless! Meaningless!" If you didn't get it the first time he leaves no doubt as to what he means "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." Most people prefer to sugar coat reality to make it more palatable as in “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” (Mary Poppins) Or they defy reality as in, "The one who dies with the most toys wins!" (Malcolm Forbes).

The teacher prefers to tell it like it is. He hates the things for which he toiled and despairs of his striving under the sun. Even if you work with wisdom, knowledge and skill you can’t take it with you when you go and others will profit from your pain. The one who dies with the most toys still dies. This might lead one to despair of life but that is not what the teacher declares as meaningless. Vanity of vanities is how the old version goes and that puts the emphasis where it belongs.

What is meaningless is a sugar-coated reality that convinces one that circumstances can be controlled, the future can be made secure by the accumulation of wealth or wisdom or that with enough effort chasing after the wind can put the breeze in your pocket.

The teacher’s instruction is not that life is meaningless; rather life lived without meaning is vanity.

Let us pray: Almighty God, give us the wisdom to see the meaning of life in you. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

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