Vanity dies hard; in some obstinate cases it outlives the man. ~ Robert Lewis Stevenson
You’ll notice something very interesting in both today’s 1st Reading (Ecclesiastes 1:2-11) and Gospel (Luke 9:7-9), a phenomenon which rarely takes place during the celebration of the Holy Mass. Nowhere in either of these passages does the word “God,” “Christ,” or “Jesus” appear, nor does Jesus speak in the Gospel for that matter.
“Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!“ These are the hopeless and gloomy words of our author Qoheleth which kick off our 1st Reading. “What profit has man from all the labor which he toils at under the sun?“ He goes on to lament that “one generation passes and another comes, but the world forever stays.“
Some have referred to thIs passage in the Book of Ecclesiastes as “the hell of the Bible.” Perhaps this is so because eternal damnation is at its very essence a separation from God, the God we were born to know, love and serve. Work, hobbies, accomplishments... all of these things are but mere vanity, meaningless and devoid of substance or truth without God. In many respects, the existence that Qoheleth speaks of in today’s passage resembles life before God invites us into his vineyard as reflected upon this past Sunday in Matthew 20:1-16 https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/On-Envy-and-Turning-to-Christ-at-the-Buzzer.
The believer on the other hand places their faith in Emanuel, God with us. To the believer, this passage is nothing short of melodramatic handwringing. The world does not forever stay. Not this world anyway. Generations don’t simply pass away, insignificant and unremembered. The Christian believer does not fear death, for they know that death has no power over them. Plain and simple, death has lost. Because of our faith in the man who stared down and conquered death, nothing is meaningless. Everything is meaningful. Our Lord knows and remembers everything. Nothing, certainly not our lives, is in vain.
Speaking of vanity, Herod the Tetrarch takes center stage in today’s Gospel passage (Luke 9:7-9) How tragically wasted his life is. Upon hearing Jesus’ named mentioned, his first thoughts turned to John the Baptist and how he had him murdered. Unlike so many who have allowed Jesus to transform their lives, Jesus made Herod feel empty.
Legendary college basketball coach John Thompson was known to have kept a deflated basketball in his office, no doubt amidst the trophies, photographs and many other memories and accolades he accumulated over the course of a Hall of Fame coaching career that included 596 wins and an NCAA National Championship at Georgetown University in the year 1984. The inscription on the wooden base that this deflated basketball sat on read “Do not let 8 ounces of air be the sum total of your existence.”
As we reflect upon that which is important and everlasting against the backdrop of the fear and uncertainty that plagues so many today, we remember the words of the great Saint Teresa of Avila who said “All things pass, God remains. He who has God lacks nothing. God alone is enough.”