Today we begin reading Ecclesiastes. It says it was written by “the preacher, the son of David, king of Jerusalem (1:1), Solomon, and his first words are, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”.
What does vanity mean? The Hebrew word means transitory, emptiness. In his old age Solomon is reviewing 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). In chapter two he says, “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).
To what extent today will we look back on a lifetime of striving to make and spend money – and see it in the end as simply “vanity”? Also, will those who fill their ‘spare’ time with pointless pursuits see the ultimate emptiness of time spent in this way? By contrast John’s Gospel shows 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 our thoughts 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. 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). Sceptically Pilate asks, “What is truth?” (verse 38). Let us not be sceptical but read and pay attention and aim to fully possess “the wisdom from above” (James 3:17) so that our lives are “sanctified in truth”.