In a World Without Justice

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 — Week of Proper 5, Year Two

Enmegahbowh, Priest and Missionary, 1902

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 971)

Psalms 61, 62 (morning) // 68:1-20(21-23)24-36 (evening)

Ecclesiastes 8:14 – 9:10

Galatians 5:1-15

Matthew 15:29-39

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

You cannot expect justice, says the Teacher of Ecclesiastes. “There are righteous people who are treated according to the conduct of the wicked, and there are wicked people who are treated according to the conduct of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity.”

Study as we may, we will never truly understand truth; we will never comprehend the depths of wisdom or reality. Every scientist knows that each new discovery only brings new questions. “No one can find out what is happening under the sun. However much they may toil in seeking, they will not find it out; even though those who are wise claim to know, they cannot find it out.”

Whether we are good and noble, or we are corrupt knaves, we all will die and eventually be forgotten. It is the same end for the good and for the evil, “since the same fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to those who sacrifice and those who do not sacrifice.” Death is the great equalizer. It is better to be alive than to be dead, says the Teacher, “for living dog is better than a dead lion.” But the Teacher has no theology of an afterlife of paradise and justice — “the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun.”

Today’s reading in Ecclesiastes summarizes the Teacher’s philosophy: Accept the reality that there is no justice; we cannot comprehend wisdom and truth; and we all will die, good and bad alike. The Teacher faces these realities fully and tells us to live while we may live. Enjoy your work while you can. Enjoy your life while you can. “Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife who you love, all the days of your vain life that you are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do with might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.”

The appeal is not to mere hedonism. The Teacher advocates virtue and righteous dealing. He only urges us to be modest in our expectations. Do good for its own sake, and enjoy the doing. But don’t expect that you will right the wrongs of the world or that you will be rewarded for your good doing. Do good when you can, and enjoy whatever enjoyments you are given.

In a way, Paul makes a similar argument in today’s reading from Galatians. He wishes to pop the balloon of those who think they have a system that will assure them of standing before God. Those who follow the law of Torah claim that in their following, they are righteous, they are in the right with humanity and God. Paul says they are only slaves. Slaves to the rules, and thus self-centered in their actions and anxious in their being. Throw it all away, says Paul, and be free. The law is only slavery bringing death. True life, true freedom is a gift. The gift is justification by grace through faith. So enjoy. Accept the gift. You are accepted. Accept the fact that you are accepted. Be free. Alive. Enjoy. When you can, do good. Look toward the needs of others. Be free.

And Jesus feeds the multitude. Everyone. The good and the bad. The lazy and the industrious. Everyone present gets fed. Matthew reproduces word for word much of Mark’s earlier account of the feeding of the 4,000. Mark’s version makes it clear that this crowd is a Gentile crowd — foreigners, of a different religion. Although they are not the people of the promise, although they know nothing of the scripture and the traditions, although they do not observe the prayers and ethic of Jesus’ people — Jesus feeds them all. And there is an abundance left over. We might hear an echo of the ancient Teacher’s voice: “Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do.”

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