The final chapter (of the book and our life) – Saturday, 25th Week in Ordinary time – Ecclesiastes 11:9 – 12:8
The closing chapter of the book has a word for the youth. While it may seem to advocate the pleasures and joys that celebrate that age, it also comes with a statutory warning. While youth is to be enjoyed and one is truly to rejoice in this gift, while youth is not to be found in ascetic living, while the heart beats for more and the eyes seek to follow its desires, such desires and flirtations of youth must be legitimate pleasures for there is more to life than what we can see; there is eternity and an eternal God to reckon with.
To be young does not mean that God’s laws are to be scattered in the wind. While youth is it be celebrated, to seek its pleasures as if they were the be all and end all of life would be hebel (vanity); that whisp of smoke and one is left clinging on to nothing. It is before the judgement seat of God that one day we will have to stand and give an account for all of our life. For we are called to live not merely for this life; our life is also lived for eternity.
God is not a name to be merely called in old age, he is a God of all ages. Perhaps we think that faith and God are the calling of our old age, when time will drag and activity will cease. In our youth, we may embrace a self-imposed ignorance of God’s laws because it may be convenient to our deeds, but this will and must be accounted for in the life to come. As youth we discount the reality of eternity and the eternal God. While this is natural and understandable it must also be called out for it is regrettable; for this life is but a brief prelude to eternity.
But youth will slip away and old age stare us in the face. Old age advances and its effects are rather obvious. This truth of life is now revealed by the preacher in poetic form. Deconstruct the poetry in verses 3-5 and it reads something like this; The arms and hands that keep the body now begin to tremble. The legs and knees begin to sag. Teeth are lost and chewing is more difficult. The eyes are dimmed. The ears become weaker and weaker.
Sleep becomes more difficult and one is easy wakened. Singing and music are less appreciated. One becomes more fearful in life. Hair becomes white. The once active become weak. The passions and desires of life weaken and wane. At the end of an advancing life heaven beacons and with the last sod of earth that covers the grave all will be forgotten as the mourners go back to their routine life
This chapter is not primarily written to those who are experiencing these difficulties. No, older people already know about these things. The preacher is writing to those who are inverse one, ‘in the days of their youth’. He’s writing to younger people who know nothing from personal experience of the realities that he’s describing. And he’s urging younger people to a certain way of living and thinking in light of the fact that dark days, as he describes them, are coming.
The text of today ends with a final plea. Do not forget God, lest the sun goes down on you before that. The preacher uses several metaphors to express this truth in verse 6-8. Be it a golden bowl or an ordinary pitcher, when it breaks it cannot be put together and like these objects we will become dust and return to the earth. This is why it is important for us to remember our creator in this life, because when life is over one will have to give an account to God.
And with that last consideration of death, the Preacher ends his sayings just as he started them, all the way back in chapter 1:2, “Vanity of vanities, says the teacher; all is vanity.