If Everything is Vanity

25 September 2008 Thursday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time
Ecclesiastes 1, 2-11; Luke 9, 7-9

The name, Ecclesiastes, was a title made up from the Greek word for ‘church’ or synagogue, and has been a rough translation of the Hebrew, “Qoheleth.” Qoheleth lived somewhere between 300-200 BC. He was thought to be a teacher in Jerusalem, and could have been honored among the academic community. In his old age, his former students would come and consult him occasionally. They were successful and overflowing with self-worth and achievement. And Qoheleth would have wondered beneath their self-importance: Was it all worthwhile? With his fellow academicians, they thought that intelligence and wisdom could save the world’s ills, but to him, this was not true: “Even if the wise says that he knows, he is unable to find it” (8,17). There was this tendency to pass on from generation to generation popular wisdom without critically thinking and reflecting on its truth. For example, it was popular belief that if people lived virtuously they would be rewarded with peace, family, happiness. But Qoheleth knew that even those who are wicked are even more rewarded. Job ranted that even a good man meets terrible misfortunes, and the demand for an answer to the “why” question is not given.

The first reading is about the routine. Every thing that happens everyday is the same without end. “One generation passes and another comes... The sun rises and the sun goes down...The wind blows... again and again. All rivers go to the sea.” Whatever we see we look for explanation, when there is none. Everything is just worthless, pointless and empty. All things are vanity!

Have you ever complained about your boring life? Everyday is the same. You wake up in the morning and prepare for work. You take a regular ride to school. Attend class. Return home. And the next day’s routine unfolds on the rising of the sun. If everything is the same, what is new?

I guess this is the point in the readings today. Herod the Tetrach kept hearing about Jesus. People said that John the Baptist whom Herod killed has risen. Herod could have asked the question: was it worthwhile to behead John the Baptist at the request of a dancer?

In the drab of life, we ask: Is the daily work we do worthwhile? And if yes, why? If no, why not?

If everything is vanity, is there anything valuable?

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