The words of the Ecclesiastes are literally wounding. He shows a world which is cut off from any ‘higher purpose’. There is nothing ‘Sacred’ which would frame his world. The question is whether this type of world is not responsible for its sufferings? It seems (we tend to forget it) that the motor of this suffering is the ‘blind desire’ which governs people. At the core of this blind desire we find the refusal of being embraced by the Sacred. The pain of the Ecclesiastes becomes a sentence on culture. Desire driven life without a purpose of becoming compassionate is a wasted life. Tragic blindness governs our culture.
‘Pray that ye enter not into temptation.’ ‘Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.’ When Jesus prays on the Mount of Olives, it is a call for reawakening from the aforementioned blindness. In his disciples (that is why he asks them to pray), he is facing this inertia of history. (It is inert, and melancholic, because it refuses to engage with the Sacred, the meaning of Life.) Jesus challenges us. Do not be (blindly) desire driven, without the purpose of being united with the Christ in prayer.
‘Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.’ Jesus personally fights this blindness in us: he also speaks on our behalf. Not the will of our culture, not its narcissistic escape from divine Love (the Sacred) be done, but our reawakening in this Love.
‘All is vanity…There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of thins that are to come with those that shall come after.’ The words of the Ecclesiastes is like swimming in a painful sea. But arriving to this experience of melancholic despair as Christians, we can add something vital. We can read the ‘unfulfilled Passion’ of the Ecclesiastes as our Christian Creed. At the heart of life, as a focal point, there is our Christ. He is ‘our memory’, whose remembrance holds all things together. Without this remembrance of the Sacred − our life indeed loses purpose. Is not this painful truth echoing in the inaccessible depths of the memory-chips of our computers and gadgets? ‘For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.’
From our Christian faith stems something more; something active. ‘That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.’ In contrast to the inertia and unchangeable fate that the Ecclesiastes states we have hope in our world. By grace, the return to Life is possible. Indeed, ‘by grace alone’ we can ‘return life to Life’.
‘For in much wisdom is much grief’: Christian faith here states something important about the ‘psychology of the soul’. God is the ultimate companion of the soul! Even more, we need Him as our partner to whom we can continuously tell our story. The human being is balanced in as much he/she can share where he/she is. On a daily bases. Without this, our soul, and through our individual soul, our culture falls into depression.
’Jesus’ parable of the lazy (passive) steward is the ultimate expression that our world should never be seen as a Beckettian ‘endless Endgame’. ‘Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities…. And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin… And he said unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant….Take from him the bound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. No, there is no excuse. However ‘absurd’ our idle or unchangeable our world seems − it is not so. We should approach our world as it is: as the Kingdom of God. When we have faith, we know that it is transformable!
‘He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous; him shall the people curse: but to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them.’
Truth is the centre of life. We should seek Truth both as individuals and as culture. Without this search, inner and external growth stops. ‘I will render to the man according to his work. I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.’
There is an intrinsic connection between this ‘Truth as life-source’ and the story of the prodigal son. The great realism of the parable is that it is inevitable that one’s life grows in all directions. This is the mark of adulthood. We got entangled with so many unplanned situations, the story of others, and the consequences of their decisions. Life once centred on simplicity and security becomes like a ‘complex’, impenetrable forest. This complexity requires a centre: the ‘Truth’ of the book of Proverbs.
The prodigal son (whose life becomes utterly de-centred) recognises the need of returning. ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.’ He just defines his state. His recognition is repentance at the same time. Now he knows, again, that without this centre − Love as abode to share − existence ends up in utmost poverty.
‘He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.’ ‘Whoso mocketh the poor preproacheth his Maker: and he that is glad at the calamities shall not be unpunished.’ And the ‘beats’ of a morally healthy heart continue in Proverbs. It is very easy to overlook the significance of the wise-sayings of Proverbs and read them as mere ‘pious sayings’. On the contrary, this text tells something vital of the Kingdom of God. Namely, how it is already fully present among us. Most importantly, how this Rule of God makes an immediate claim on us.
The Earth needs just rulers. However, ‘good government’ starts via our individual efforts to rule our heart and live justly. ‘An evil man seeketh only rebellion: therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him….Whosoever rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house.’ There is more to it than reading a catalogue of virtues. There is a wider picture which one should grasp. The human heart, thus transformed against its innate egoism, belongs to the Kingdom of God! The central message of the passage is that the heart is the cell and building block of God’s full reign in Heaven and Earth. Our ‘heartbeats’, marked by grace, are the proofs that this is a full reign here on Earth!
Luke’s gospel focuses on this ‘present value’ of the human heart. The stake is that our heart is an icon of, a pointer to, God’s Kingdom. The person is an ‘open Embassy’ of this Kingdom. That is why there is an urge to take the present state of our hearts seriously. ‘I tell you…: but except you repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’
That is why Jesus asks us to ‘discern this time’. ‘This time’ belongs to God. Our judgements should be in the service of God’s just Kingdom. This ‘thinking and discerning presence’ in History is the ground of all forms of living together. Can we hear the biblical question of the guardian Angel of this age, addressed to us? What happens when ‘democracy is heart-less’?
'The house of the wicked shall be overthrown: but the tabernacle of the upright shall flourish.'
'What we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us. The whole creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal his sons. It was not for any fault on the part of creation that it was made unable to attain its purpose, it was made so by God; but creation still retains the hope of being freed, like us, from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God.'
When we feel low, because of our failures, we realise how much we are part of this yearning creation. In these moments of being lost we are in front of Divine Love naked; just as naked and exposed as 'inanimate' and unassumint as nature is. Like rain-showered trees in front of Saint Augustine's on the threshold between Autumn and Winter.
''My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.' In our 'globalised' world, our task is to remain morally and ethically ('wider concern for the world') vigilant. We need the word of God as a reference point in order to filter trends and harmful events in history.
''My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother." The above prevention and atonement is only possible if we develop a personal relationship to our world. This attitude of personal care is akin to the personal contact which we have with our parents. This 'personalism' is the key that we remain in touch with the world in which we live.
''But speak thou the tings which become sound doctrine...In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works...." We are the ones who can purify and heal history through remaining spiritually and ethically sober. The inertia of the world, its rolling towards lower and lower states under the weights of its unscrutinised ways and sins, is not the final word. Our commitment to the Gospel as disciples makes a difference.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..