SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
Ecclesiastes 11, 12
Key Verse: Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not. – Ecclesiastes 3:1
Sometimes, when I am struggling with the physical problems of aging, I will say to my wife with a smile, “Mama, nobody told us what fun growing old was going to be.” If older people tried to tell us when we were young, we were not listening.
As we grow older, everything seems to fall apart. Our teeth fall out, muscular strength diminishes, eyesight dims, hearing loss occurs, and the brain struggles to run on all cylinders. We laugh about our “senior moments” when we cannot recall things we have known all our lives.
Since having both knees replaced last summer, I have struggled to regain the use of my legs. It helps me to remember that I could hardly walk before my surgery. Through therapy and pain, I have cried out hundreds of times, “Help me, Jesus.” I have recognized the need for help outside myself, and repeatedly the Lord’s help has come. Though the Lord has not healed me instantly, I have not felt abandoned. He is with me, always teaching, always comforting, and always beckoning me forward in faith. Like the loving parent of a child learning to walk, He has patiently helped me to recover, on His timetable, not mine.
I know that Jesus has helped me avoid the cynicism of Solomon toward life. Despite life’s frailties, Jesus has enabled me to maintain a positive, hopeful outlook. Thankfully, I have not succumbed to Solomon’s idea that life is empty and meaningless, which is what he meant by “all is vanity.”
Some scholars defend Solomon’s pessimism with the argument that he is offering to the ungodly “a realistic appraisal” of what it is like to go through the seasons of life. This much we know: faith in Jesus Christ saves us from wallowing in emptiness when life is hard. Jesus gives us an eternal perspective. He gives us hope that beyond this world of pain and trouble, there is a Father’s House with a room for each of us, prepared by our Savior who will welcome us home one day.
We are all tempted to embrace negativism as we struggle with the problems of aging. When one becomes incontinent and homebound, it is easy to feel abandoned by God. Few people can remain cheerful and upbeat when it becomes necessary to sell their home and move into a nursing home. As someone has put it, life is difficult. In those agonizing moments, the soul cries out, “Help me, Jesus.”
Today’s scripture lesson presents quite a challenge to the best of us. It is not immediately apparent what Solomon means by such phrases as “the keepers of the house,” “the strong men,” “the grinders,” or “the windows.” Our understanding grows as we discover that he is warning youth to make wise choices when they are young, for in time they must deal with the problems of old age.
I was especially blessed by reading chapters 11 and 12 as they are paraphrased in The Living Bible. What Solomon says become much clearer so I share some of it with you in case you do not have a copy of this translation available:
“It is a wonderful thing to be alive! If a person lives to be very old, let him rejoice in every day of life, but let him also remember that eternity is far longer, and that everything down here is futile in comparison.
“Young man, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it! Do all you want to; take in everything, but realize that you must account to God for everything you do. So banish grief and pain, but remember that youth, with a whole life before it, can make serious mistakes (11:7-10).
“Don’t let the excitement of being young cause you to forget about your Creator. Honor him in your youth before the evil years come – when you’ll no longer enjoy living. It will be too late then to try to remember him, when the sun and light and moon and stars are dim to your old eyes, and there is no silver lining left among your clouds. For there will come a time when your limbs will tremble with age, and your strong legs will become weak, and your teeth will be too few to do their work, and there will be blindness, too. Then let your lips be tightly closed while eating, when your teeth are gone! And you will waken at dawn with the first note of the birds, but you yourself will be deaf and tuneless, with quavering voice. You will be afraid of heights and of falling – a white-haired, withered old man, dragging himself along: without sexual desire, standing at death’s door, and nearing his everlasting home as the mourners go along the streets.
“Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the cistern; and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. All is futile, says the Preacher; utterly futile.
“But then, because the Preacher was wise, he went on teaching the people all he knew; and he collected proverbs and classified them. For the Preacher was not only a wise man, but a good teacher; he not only taught what he knew to the people, but taught them in an interesting manner. The wise man’s words are like goads that spur to action. They nail down important truths. Students are wise who master what their teachers tell them.
“But, my son, be warned: there is no end of opinions ready to be expressed. Studying them can go on forever, and become very exhausting!
“Here is my final conclusion: fear God and obey his commandments, for this is the entire duty of man. For God will judge us for everything we do, including every hidden thing, good or bad (chapter 12).
As you reflect on Solomon’s teachings, remember that youth need guidance; children need mentors. We have the wonderful opportunity, as followers of Jesus, to teach the young not only the wisdom of Solomon but also the eternal truth of the One who was “greater than Solomon.”
Before our eyes dim much more, let us find a child, a youth, whom we may inspire to honor not only the Creator but the Savior as well.
+ + + + (Walter may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)