ECCLESIASTES 11:9-12:8; LUKE 9:43-45

REJOICE, O YOUNG MAN, WHILE YOU ARE STILL YOUNG; FOLLOW THE WAYS OF YOUR HEART.  Sacred Scripture contains many surprises for the attentive and thoughtful reader.   Anyone can verify this observation who has read the book of Ecclesiastes and the Canticle of Canticles after having thoughtfully assimilated the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Saint Mark, to name but one of numerous inspired texts of the Old and the New Testament.   Harmonizing seeming contradictory and conflicting teachings not only between the two Testaments, but even within the various books of the New as well as of the Old Dispensation, has been a challenge for every serious believer from early times.

There is plenty of evidence for this feature of the Bible, whether we seek it for the Hebrew writings or for the Greek of the New Testament.   Today's first reading is surely a puzzling piece of advice to any reader who had heard the words of Jesus this past Sunday.   There the Lord, still a young man, far from recommending them to enjoy life, warned his disciples to prepare for his approaching suffering and death.   Jesus, Saint Mark records "was reaching his disciples, and telling them, 'The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.'  Taken as a whole and well assimilated, this statement can be reconciled with the recommendation in our first reading to follow the ways of our heart while still young.

In order to fit these two texts together we must make the effort required to put them in their proper contexts, and so interpret them as they were meant to be understood.   That his advice to the young might readily be misunderstood and misused to the harm of the young reader was evident to our inspired author.   That is why he went on to add the reminder that "God will bring you to judgment."   Rightly to follow the ways of your heart entails perceiving the whole of the heart's ways.   Earlier on in his book Ecclesiastes had called attention to a fundamental feature of our human condition.   He did so in extensive detail that is instructive in our reconciling these two readings of today's liturgy. He writes:   "There is a season for everything, a time for every matter under the sun."(3:1)   We observe that in the life of our Lord, he knew how to follow this recommendation of our ancient author.   At a suitable time, Matthew tells us, Jesus followed the easy of his heart, and in doing so spoke of little ones, just as Ecclesiastes referred to youth.   Luke tells of the occasion : "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said:   'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for you have hidden these matters from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them to little ones.' "(10:21)

Could it be that the message of the liturgy in presenting us with these two reading that appear in conflict on the surface is that only those who make it their practice to enter into their heart, become familiar with the ways of the Holy Spirit who abides there, know how truly to rejoice so as to be strong in that loving faith that follows the Lord even through death to life everlasting.   Is not this the mysterious truth that we celebrate here today in this holy Eucharist?

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger