Psalm 49 (50)
To the sinner, God has said this:
Why do you recite my statutes?
Why do you dare to speak my covenant?
For you hate what I teach you,
and reject what I tell you.
The moment you saw a thief, you joined him;
you threw in your lot with adulterers.
You spoke evil with your mouth,
and your tongue made plans to deceive.
Solemnly seated, you denounced your own brother;
you poured forth hatred against your own mother’s son.
All this you did, and I was silent;
so you thought that I was just like you.
But I will reprove you –
I will confront you with all you have done.
Understand this, you who forget God;
lest I tear you apart, with no-one there to save you.
Whoever offers up a sacrifice of praise gives me true honour;
whoever follows a sinless path in life will be shown the salvation of God.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
Reading Ecclesiastes 2:1 - 26
I thought to myself, ‘Very well, I will try pleasure and see what enjoyment has to offer.’ And there it was: vanity again! This laughter, I reflected, is a madness, this pleasure no use at all. I resolved to have my body cheered with wine, my heart still devoted to wisdom; I resolved to embrace folly to see what made mankind happy, and what men do under heaven in the few days they have to live.
My reflections then turned to wisdom, stupidity, folly. For instance, what can the successor of a king do? What has been done already. More is to be had from wisdom than from folly, as from light than from darkness; this, of course, I see:
The wise man sees ahead,
the fool walks in the dark.
No doubt! But I know, too, that one fate awaits them both. ‘The fool’s fate’ I thought to myself ‘will be my fate too. Of what use my wisdom, then? This, too,’ I thought ‘is vanity.’ Since there is no lasting memory for wise man or for fool, and in the days to come both will be forgotten; wise man, alas, no less than fool must die. Life I have come to hate, for what is done under the sun disgusts me, since all is vanity and chasing of the wind. All I have toiled for and now bequeath to my successor I have come to hate; who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will be master of all the work into which I have put my efforts and wisdom under the sun. That, too, is vanity.
And hence I have come to despair of all the efforts I have expended under the sun. For so it is that a man who has laboured wisely, skilfully and successfully must leave what is his own to someone who has not toiled for it at all. This, too, is vanity and great injustice; for what does he gain for all the toil and strain that he has undergone under the sun? What of all his laborious days, his cares of office, his restless nights? This, too, is vanity.
There is no happiness for man but to eat and drink and to be content with his work. This, too, I see as something from God’s hand, since plenty and penury both come from God; wisdom, knowledge, joy, he gives to the man who pleases him; on the sinner lays the task of gathering and storing up for another who is pleasing to God. This, too, is vanity and chasing of the wind.
Reading A sermon on Ecclesiastes by St Gregory of Nyssa
Christ is our head, and the wise man keeps his eyes upon him.
We shall be blessed with clear vision if we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, for he, as Paul teaches, is our head, and there is in him no shadow of evil. Saint Paul himself and all who have reached the same heights of sanctity had their eyes fixed on Christ, and so have all who live and move and have their being in him.
As no darkness can be seen by anyone surrounded by light, so no trivialities can capture the attention of anyone who has his eyes on Christ. The man who keeps his eyes upon the head and origin of the whole universe has them on virtue in all its perfection; he has them on truth, on justice, on immortality and on everything else that is good, for Christ is goodness itself.
The wise man, then, turns his eyes toward the One who is his head, but the fool gropes in darkness. No one who puts his lamp under a bed instead of on a lamp-stand will receive any light from it. People are often considered blind and useless when they make the supreme Good their aim and give themselves up to the contemplation of God, but Paul made a boast of this and proclaimed himself a fool for Christ’s sake. The reason he said, We are fools for Christ’s sake was that his mind was free from all earthly preoccupations. It was as though he said, “We are blind to the life here below because our eyes are raised toward the One who is our head”.
And so, without board or lodging, he travelled from place to place, destitute, naked, exhausted by hunger and thirst. When men saw him in captivity, flogged, shipwrecked, led about in chains, they could scarcely help thinking him a pitiable sight. Nevertheless, even while he suffered all this at the hands of men, he always looked toward the One who is his head and he asked: What can separate us from the love of Christ, which is in Jesus? Can affliction or distress? Can persecution, hunger, nakedness, danger or death? In other words, “What can force me to take my eyes from him who is my head and to turn them toward things that are contemptible?”
He bids us follow his example: Seek the things that are above, he says, which is only another way of saying: “Keep your eyes on Christ”.