At the end of the school year, my employer is decent enough to pay out my nine-month contract in one giant lump sum. Effectively, that means that on May 31, I get the six paychecks that would normally come from that date until August 15. Effectively, that means that I, right now, have a very large sum of money in my checking account just aching to be spent.
The way I have it figured, we can eat dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant for about $25. That means that $1,000 will see us through 40 meals at La Fuente. Assuming that we might miss a day here or there, $2,000 would pretty well feed us on tacos al pastor and whatever it is Penny eats for the entire summer. Talk about rejoicing and enjoying the good life! Solomon could have been talking about us:
I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. It is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats, drinks, and enjoys all his efforts.Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
Was Koheleth really talking about a daily serving of enchiladas or am I perhaps missing the point? I ask, because that second verse seems to run straight against the teaching of Jesus. In Luke 12, He relates the Parable of the Rich Fool. You might remember that a farmer has a huge crop and determines to store it up and coast on his wealth.
Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.”Luke 12:19
Those two verses sound pretty similar, but what Solomon praises, Jesus condemns. Is this another one of those contradictions that prove the Bible untrue?
To answer that question, let’s read those two passages carefully to see if they truly do run in complete opposition to each other. What precisely does Ecclesiastes say? “It is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats . . . ” If I take this verse to heart, then I’m recognizing that the money in my bank account is a gift of God. On the other hand, the Rich Fool doesn’t acknowledge God at all. He behaves as if he’s rich simply because of his own efforts.
What should we do with the gift of God? The Parable of the Talents makes that very clear. We have a responsibility to wisely use the gifts that God gives us. We shouldn’t bury them in the ground or bury them in our own flesh.
Does this mean that Ecclesiastes has it wrong? Are we mistaken to eat, drink, and enjoy our efforts? Of course not. Jesus’ teaching is not a call to complete self-denial. He dined and celebrated with people during his ministry. He went to that wedding at Cana. I can’t imagine Jesus sitting back and clucking in disapproval at people having a moderate good time: “Did you make sure that meat was humanely raised and locally sourced? And by the way, you should only eat a portion about the size of a deck of cards!” I could be wrong, but that sort of thing seems like substituting one form of legalism for another.
To balance these two stories, we simply have to enjoy the good things that God has provided without forgetting that it was Him that provided them. That’s an easy concept to grasp. I wish it were easier to put into practice.