This blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church
1The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
3What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
4One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
5The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
6The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
7All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
8All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
10Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
11There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.
I have broken my habit of accepting the translation used by the lectionary and printed here the King James Version, which is frequently incomparable in its beauty and simplicity. Try other versions of verse 9 for example.
Ecclesiastes is a sharp and bitter exposition of the futility (vanity=emptiness) of created life. In Romans 8 Paul uses the Greek mataiotes to express the limitation under which all created things labour. It has been imposed by God, he says: that is, it’s not a condition of created things per se, as though there something intrinsically wrong with them. If that was the case how could God have seen that it was very good? No, it has been imposed (doubtless as a limit to human evil), in the hope that one day it will be lifted and all things will enjoy the glorious freedom of God’s children. Meantime we should attend to the sour wisdom of the preacher. Why do we think we’re so great? That we can build political or commercial or familial empires to last forever? “All the rivers run into the sea.” A world fascinated with “now things” should be asked, “Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time.” If we allowed the preacher to puncture our pretensions, we would gain modesty and good humour.
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.”
But Herod said, “John I beheaded.
Who then is this about whom I hear such things?”
And he kept trying to see him.
Here is a man of great power caught in futility. Herod has killed the prophet who dared to criticise his marriage, but he is undone by guilt and superstition. Jesus sounds ominously like John returned from the dead to haunt him, as, in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, the murdered Banquo returns to haunt the king. The violence of power is futile because it returns, one way or another, to where it began. The terrible history of British/American support of Israel and Islamic support of Palestinians is filled with instances of this truth. The scriptures speak the truth to power and about power.