Cast your bread upon the waters



Ecclesiastes 11:1-6

Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return.
Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie.
Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.
Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.
***

Ecclesiastes is an interesting book of the Bible, a book which my young adult group has just completed a study on. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes has undergone a thorough deconstruction of things most valued in his time. His findings are sobering, if not a little predictable. Wisdom, it is meaningless. Wealth, it is meaningless. Hedonistic pleasure and sexual enjoyment, you're right, it is meaningless! Even noble ventures like hard work and big projects are altogether meaningless. In the 11th verse of Chapter 2, the Preacher bemoans the conclusion of his public service experiment: Everything I tried my hand to, everything I hurled my heart and ambition toward—it all was meaningless and striving after wind. Every object I pursued could not give the meaning I originally sought in.

Everything is meaningless.

And yet after all that, he comes to Ecclesiastes 11, and the tone is strikingly different than the opening chapters. Take risks. Ship your grain across the sea, that after an indefinite period of time you may receive a return on your investment. Diversify your assets, purchase different ventures and securities so all your eggs are not in one basket. He discourages fear-based caution, that continual sky gazing which frets about what effect potential changes in the weather will have on the work, and foregoes the work as a result. He discourages idleness, and encourages the break of dawn planting of seeds.

Another words the Preacher is telling us: Don't just stand there. Act. Do something. Cast your bread upon the waters, and see what happens.

Does it seem strange to you that someone who has just found all things "under the sun" to be unfulfilling--now encourages risk and work? If everything is meaningless, why not just quit while we are ahead? Why risk potential loss and pain if it is all meaningless to begin with? Depressing analysis of the futility of things does not generally yield to a life of action.

But contrary to popular belief, the message of Ecclesiastes is not: “meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.” Make no mistake, the way we are inclined to view the gifts from God is indeed meaningless. It is vanity of vanities when the things of earth are raised to the ultimate. Wisdom, pleasure, projects, good works, fill in the blank--are ultimately worthless when viewed as ends in themselves and the sole objects of our pursuits.

But the Preacher shows us that when things are placed in their appropriate context, it is then that they find their meaning. As Ecclesiastes 2:24 says, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can have enjoyment?” It is then only under the proper framework, it is only when God is in the picture, it is only against the backdrop of eternity--that these things in life can be viewed as they are: gifts from heaven to be used and enjoyed. Once we see them in this new light, they are given new meaning. And it is anything but vanity.

It is under this new lens of seeing things under the sun, that we as Christians are compelled to live and risk with all the energy we now possess. Which gets me to the point of the Ecclesiastes 11. Since earthly pursuits are not the ultimate end goal, let’s get rid of the fearful hesitation and idleness we are so disposed to in the affluent West. Rather than holding on to our wealth, our comfort, and our ability with clenched fists--when we see them as they should be seen--we will be free to work aggressively with what we have been given. We will be at liberty to live life, acting and moving boldly, knowing that any loss is not the end of the world. And while we are not to be wasteful stewards of what God has entrusted in our care, we should not fear to cast our bread upon the waters and see what the return will be.

If there is anything to be learned from Ecclesiastes, it is that life on earth is short. Youth, energy, wisdom, and wealth are only given to us for a passing season. So let’s not be afraid to put those gifts to heaven’s work. Actually let us be eager to do so! For when it is all over we will want to rest assured that we made the most of the temporary gifts that were entrusted into our care.

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