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.
You sweep men away like a dream,
like grass which springs up in the morning.
In the morning it springs up and flowers:
by evening it withers and fades. (R./)
Make us know the shortness of our life
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Lord, relent! Is your anger for ever?
Show pity to your servants. (R./)
In the morning, fill us with your love;
we shall exult and rejoice all our days.
Let the favour of the Lord be upon us:
give success to the work of our hands. (R./)
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.
"Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!" said the weary old Jewish philosopher, and he then coined a saying that has been used countless times since then: "There is nothing new under the sun."
Jewish tradition attributes this Book of Qoheleth to King Solomon, the patron of wisdom. Even though he expresses such a dark summary of life, still he gives us food for thought. Was he a wise man or a cynic, a searcher or a selfish hedonist, this wealthy king who had so much and lived a long life now felt that all had passed as quickly as a puff of wind.
Qoheleth seldom mentions God or faith or prayer but takes a long, hard look at life. Basically, he says that life is not worth living unless we seek for wisdom. He examined all kinds of human dealings, but with most of them he found fault. "While I was searching I found one upright man among a thousand" (7:28). The same world-weary mood moved William Wordsworth to write:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon.
It may not be exalted idealism, yet it's a sober call not to spend all our time and energy on trivial pursuits.
In the Gospel, the patron of trivial pursuits was Herod the Tetrarch, for whom religion was a curiosity, a momentary pang of conscience, a way to win his people's allegiance. Herod was curious about Jesus, but his curiosity did not lead to faith. He wanted to see the famous prophet from Nazareth that everyone was talking about, curious to know if he was in any way related to John the Baptist, whom he had executed at the whim of his step-daughter. Herod did indeed get to to see Jesus, during the Lord's Passion, when he had him mocked as a king (Lk 23:8). The Gospel writer saw Herod as a shallow, cynical ruler, who respected neither God nor man.
Herod's example is a wake-up call against cynicism in our own attitudes. We too want to see Jesus, but it is in order to know him more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly.