22 September. Thursday, Week 25

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1st Reading: Ecclesiastes (Qohelet) 1:2-11

Nothing is new under the sun. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north;
round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow.
All things are wearisome; more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”?
It has already been, in the ages before us.
The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.

Gospel: Luke 9:7-9

Herod was perplexed about Jesus and became very curious to see him.

Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen.

Herod said, “John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he tried to see him.


Not weary of life

A weary ennui can set in when we have too much, too soon. How memorable are those opening lines of Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth . His name seems to refer to the preacher to an assembly but the bulk of his book suggests that the readership was not a liturgical one, nor was the writer really preaching. This wise cynic raises troubling questions. Despite his affluence and owning so much he calls it all a puff of wind. One might say that he has us guessing from the opening phrase: Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth. All things are vanity.

He does not talk about liturgy but takes a long, hard look at life. We are to contemplate life as it is and to admit that it is all worth little, unless we begin to seek the way of wisdom. The writing has an undertow of faith: “It is from the hand of God” (2:24), from beginning to end, the work which God has done” (3:11), “rather, fear God.” (5:6), “God made humankind straight, but people have try many calculations” (7:29). He ends his twelfth and last chapter with these words: The last word is: fear God and keep his commandments, for this is all, for human beings. This may not seem like exalted spirituality, yet it is no small thing to shake loose from complacency and begin our conversion.

Then we have Luke’s portrayal of Herod the Tetrarch, for whom religion was a curiosity, a temporary pill to soothe conscience, a clever way of winning allegiance. It is tragic to think that his wish to see the Nazarene prophet was fulfilled only when for political reasons Pilate sent him the captive Jesus. We are told that “Herod was extremely pleased to see Jesus” (Lk 23:8). Religion, like Jesus, can be misused for politics and pleasure, the saddest way to relieve boredom.

Lifelong Seekers

The Herod mentioned in this morning’s gospel is Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great; he was tetrarch of Galilee during the time of the public ministry of Jesus. Luke portrays him as curious about Jesus. He has heard about all that is being done by Jesus and he is puzzled. He asks himself, ‘Who is this I hear such reports about?’ He is anxious to see Jesus. That kind of curiosity and puzzlement about Jesus can be the beginning of faith for some people. Yet, even those who have been people of faith all their lives, and know a great deal about Jesus, will continue to be puzzled by him, will continue to ask that fundamental question, ‘Who is this?’ and will continue to want to see him more clearly. We never exhaust the mystery of Jesus on this side of eternity. As believers, we will always be seekers in his regard. In the words of Saint Richard, a thirteenth century bishop of Chichester, ‘may I know you more clearly, love you more dearly and follow you more nearly, day by day.’ [MH]

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