Vanity of vanities!

From the Schedelsche Weltchronik or Nuremberg Chronicle (1493).

25th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Ecclesiastes 1:2-11, Luke 9:7-9

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! …The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor is the ear satisfied with hearing (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 8b).

Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was greatly perplexed because some were saying, “John has been raised from the dead”; others were saying, “Elijah has appeared”; still others, “One of the ancient prophets has arisen” (Luke 9:7-8).

Qoheleth, the Solomonic pen name of Ecclesiastes, sagely lamented the emptiness and futility of all human striving “under the sun.” 

Herod epitomized our collective vanity, surfeited with seeing and hearing, yet never satisfied. 

News and the “latest buzz” tickle the outer ears but leave the inner chamber of the heart untouched. Rumors about “John” or “Elijah” or “one of the ancient prophets” fluttered about Herod’s court, flummoxing the tetrarch.

But Herod said, “John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” And he kept trying to see him.

Would “seeing” this elusive figure have sated Herod’s ravenous eyes? Jesus refused to entertain the wolfish tetrarch when summoned into his presence on the morning of his crucifixion (Luke 23:8-9). 

The gap between subject and object in seeing and hearing always leaves the subject yearning for more. All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full (Ecclesiastes 1:7). The human spirit longs to soar in union with the infinite Trinity, beyond the distinction of subject and object. Is it possible?

Nothing is new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). 

In modern times, even the marvel of the Incarnation draws a yawn. The One who keeps the sun shining was silenced and buried under it (John 1:11). 

What does our jaded world say about the resurrection of Christ? Is that new?

All speech is labored; there is nothing one can say (Ecclesiastes 1:8). 

Weary, weary words! There is the speechlessness of the resigned. There is also the speechlessness of the mystic. St. Paul received the gift of arrested speech, his most eloquent testimony: “I know someone in Christ who… was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

“The Tao (Logos) that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.”1

-GMC

1 Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, chapter 1, translated by Derek Lin.

2 Replies to “Vanity of vanities!”

  1. Thank you for your post. Your words reach me as if for the first time hearing and seeing. They speak to my spiritual deafness and dumbness and make me think and want to get closer to our great God. Where no words are necessary, but He inspires them anyway. Much like prayer.

    1. The Spirit of the Word is always fresh and new… listening in the Spirit is always like the “first time,” isn’t it? Thank you for sharing!

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