By the Rt. Rev. Robert L. Fitzpatrick
How do I live a life right with God, with my fellow human beings and within myself? That is the heart of the question for both the “Teacher” of Ecclesiastes and for Paul in the Letter to the Colossians in today’s readings.
The Teacher urges his student to put aside “vanity” and to control the tongue. He calls the student to seek “wisdom,” and to live life in moderation and with prudence. He calls the student to live in the order of the world. The Teacher speaks as an elder to a youth: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.” (Eccl 12:13)
Paul likewise offers an ethical view of life grounded in God. Here, however, it is not the commandments – the Law – that grounds our life, but our baptism in Christ. He reminds us that we “have been raised with Christ.” He then lists things that we ought not to do and he describes how our very being is to be shaped in Christ.
For many, the words of the Teacher seem oddly stoic and somehow limiting. Paul’s call for living in Christ’s inclusiveness (“no longer Greek and Jew….”) and with compassion and kindness seems all well and good, but then he goes and spoils it with wives being “subject to husbands” and “slaves, obey your masters.”
For both the Teacher and for Paul, the core is the call to live in right relationship. I must overcome of my own greed, my own desire to control and to manipulate (other people and God), and my own captivity to fear and anxiety about tomorrow. While we might not frame Paul’s household rules in the same way, he does get to the core of how we treat those most closely connected to our lives – our spouses, our children, our co-workers, our supervisors. It is in the ordinary and the everyday we live. It is in the here and now that we live for God.
Paul offers a list describing what it means to be “God’s chosen ones” (Col 3:12-17). How might the list be applied to new rules for a Christian household in the 21st century? In other words, how can we embody them today as Paul tried to describe them for his time (Col 3:18-25)?
The Teacher’s insistence that “all is vanity.” How do these words speak to our age? What are examples of the false hopes of our society brought to light in the past few years?
Grant me your grace, Lord Jesus, to live as one of your chosen ones that whatever I do, in word or deed, it might be done in your Name, giving thanks to God the Father. Amen.
The Rt. Rev. Robert L. Fitzpatrick is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawai’I and the Episcopal Church of Micronesia