The Koheleth Syndrome

This Sunday we’re going to hear from two very different voices in the Bible. The first voice is from a man called “Koheleth” (Hebrew for “the Preacher”) who wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes. Folks of my generation (and older) may remember the song “Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season)” in which the late Pete Seeger put the words of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 to music: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up” and so on.

The focus on Sunday will be on Chapter 1, in which Koheleth writes, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanities of vanities! All is vanity! What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? . . .What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. . .I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun, all is vanity and a chasing after the wind.”

Oh, my! What a downer, we might say. Apparently there was some debate among the rabbis when they were putting together the canon of the Hebrew Bible as to whether Koheleth’s voice should be included. Ultimately, his voice is heard, and in fact the whole book of Ecclesiastes is read during the Jewish festival of Sukkoth, or the Feast of Tabernacles, an especially joyous time. Koheleth’s voice is read to add a serious note to the festivities. Presbyterian minister and author Frederick Buechner summarizes Koheleth’s message this way: “There is nothing new under the sun, Koheleth says, with the result that everything that there is under the sun is both old, and as you might imagine in all that heat, it stinks.”

Over against Koheleth we will hear the voice of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, the 5th chapter, where he heals a woman who has suffered a terrible physical condition over the course of many years, finding no relief in doctors or other helpers. In the midst of a chaotic crowd pressing in on Jesus, who is on his way to respond to another request for help, she touches his cloak—and is healed, with Jesus saying “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease. ” She can live once again in wholeness.

Jill Duffield, editor of the Presbyterian Outlook points out that out of chaos and confusion, there can be newness and healing as she reflects on the church murders in Charleston SC, and the powerful voices of forgiveness that have been raised. Little did Jill know and little would Koheleth suspect that by the end of the week, many states, corporations, and institutions would take the step of removing the Confederate flag, due to its association with past terror and racism. Yes Koheleth, there is much that does not change, but as Jesus said in Revelation, “Behold, I make all things new.”

 

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