Our first reading this past week has been taking us on a kind of tour of the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. Today’s pearl of wisdom, from the book of Ecclesiastes, talks about the seasons of a person’s life. In some ways, the book of Ecclesiastes can seem to be the most pessimistic of the books of Scripture. Based on the conjecture that the book may have been written by wise king Solomon, some say this was the book he wrote late in life, looking back on where life has taken him with a tired and cynical heart. You can get that feeling as you read through the book of Ecclesiastes, but if you stay with it, you often unearth some treasures like today’s selection.
Today we hear that there is a time for everything. And you can well imagine Solomon saying this at an old age, looking back on his life. We all know that life takes us all sorts of places, some good and some bad, some pleasant and some unpleasant, some joy-filled and some laden with sorrow. We need the one to appreciate the other, I think, and we pray for short times of unhappiness mixed with generous portions of joy. Life ebbs and flows, and ultimately leads us to the God who made us. I love the line toward the end of the reading: “He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts…”
Jesus too realized that his own life would be mixed with joy and sorrow. After asking who they said he was, he instructed them carefully that he would suffer, be rejected, would die and then rise. Here he links the sorrow in his life and in ours with the Cross, and the joy in his life and in ours with the Resurrection. We can’t have one without the other, and through it all God is glorified.
The protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr summed it up aptly in his famous serenity prayer. You’ve heard the beginning, but the ending is truly brilliant:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.