Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 ECCL 1:2-11
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
What profit has man from all the labor
which he toils at under the sun?
One generation passes and another comes,
but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun goes down;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.
Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north,
the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.
All rivers go to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they go,
the rivers keep on going.
All speech is labored;
there is nothing one can say.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing
nor is the ear satisfied with hearing.What has been, that will be;
what has been done, that will be done.
Nothing is new under the sun.
Even the thing of which we say, “See, this is new!”
has already existed in the ages that preceded us.
There is no remembrance of the men of old;
nor of those to come will there be any remembrance
among those who come after them.
Responsorial Psalm PS 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14 AND 17BC
You turn man back to dust,
saying, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night.
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
You make an end of them in their sleep;
the next morning they are like the changing grass,
Which at dawn springs up anew,
but by evening wilts and fades.
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
Prosper the work of our hands for us!
Prosper the work of our hands!
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
Alleluia JN 14:6
I am the way and the truth and the life, says the Lord;
no one comes to the Father except through me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 9:7-9
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.
Commentary on Luke 9: 7-9 From Living Space
Today we have a short interlude which is leading to some very special revelations.
Herod the tetrarch (his father Herod the Great’s kingdom had been divided among four sons) is hearing stories about what Jesus is doing. ‘Tetrarch’ means the ruler of the fourth part of a kingdom. This one, Herod Antipas, was one of several sons; the kingdom was divided among four of them. Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea from 4 BC to 39 AD. Although not strictly speaking a ‘king’ he is called that in Matthew and Mark following popular usage.
Herod is puzzled because he is being told that Jesus is John the Baptist risen from the dead. At the same time others are saying that Elijah, whose expected return would signal the arrival of the Messiah, or some of the former biblical prophets has reappeared. Herod has recently beheaded John the Baptist and the superstitious king is filled with a mixture of fear and curiosity. He “kept trying to see Jesus”.
Luke does not actually record the death of John and, in this short passage, he prepares the reader for the later meeting of Herod with Jesus (23:8-12). So Herod’s wish will be partially fulfilled at a later date though under very unexpected circumstances and in a way that Herod will find very unsatisfactory. He is hoping that Jesus, like some circus dog, will do some ‘tricks’ or ‘miracles’ for him. [In the musical ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Herod asks Jesus to walk across his swimming pool.]
Herod’s desire was almost entirely one of curiosity, it was the desire of the hedonist and the seeker of novelty. To see Jesus, in the full Gospel sense, is something totally other. It can only happen to those who have the eyes of faith and who can see in the person of Jesus the presence and power of God. We may recall the request of some “Greeks” who told Philip they wanted to see Jesus and the reply that Jesus gave about the grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying (John 12:20-26). We have not seen Jesus if we do not know him in his suffering and dying as his way to new life.
Let us ask to see Jesus today, a seeing that leads to a total acceptance of his way of life and following him all the way, through the cross and beyond to a life that never ends.
• Luke 9, 7-8: Who is Jesus? The text begins with the exposition of the opinion of the people and of Herod on Jesus. Some associated Jesus to John the Baptist and to Elijah. Others identified him with a Prophet, that is, with a person who speaks in the name of God, who has the courage to denounce injustices of those in power and who knows how to give hope to the little ones. He is the Prophet announced in the Old Testament like a new Moses (Dt 18, 15). These are the same opinions that Jesus received from the disciples when he asked them: “Who do people say I am?” (Lk 9, 18). Persons tried to understand Jesus starting from things that they knew, thought and expected. They tried to set him against the background of the familiar criteria of the Old Testament with its prophecies and hopes, and of the Tradition of the Ancients with their laws. But these were insufficient criteria; Jesus could not enter into them, he was much bigger!
• Luke 9, 9: Herod wants to see Jesus. But Herod said: “John, I beheaded him; so who is this of whom I hear such things?” “And he was anxious to see him”. Herod, a superstitious man without scruples, recognizes that he was the murderer of John the Baptist. Now, he wants to see Jesus. Luke suggests thus that the threats begin to appear on the horizon of the preaching of Jesus. Herod had no fear to kill John. He will not be afraid to kill Jesus. On the other side, Jesus does no fear Herod. When they tell him that Herod wanted to take him to kill him, he sent someone to tell him: “You may go and give that fox this message: Look, today and tomorrow I drive out devils and heal, and on the third day I attain my end.” (Lk 13, 32). Herod has no power over Jesus. When at the hour of the passion, Pilate sends Jesus to be judged by Herod, Jesus does not respond anything (Lk 23, 9). Herod does not deserve a response.
• From father to son. Some times the three Herods, who lived during that time are confused, then the three appear in the New Testament with the same name: a) Herod, called the Great, governed over the whole of Palestine from 37 before Christ. He appears at the birth of Jesus (Mt 2, 1). He kills the new-born babies of Bethlehem (Mt 2, 16). b) Herod, called Antipas, governed in Galilee from the year 4 to 39 after Christ. He appears at the death of Jesus (Lk 23, 7). He killed John the Baptist (Mk 6, 14-29). c) Herod, called Agrippa, governed all over Palestine from the year 41 to 44 after Christ. He appears in the Acts of the Apostles (Ac 12, 1.20). He killed the Apostle James (Ac 12, 2).
When Jesus was about four years old, King Herod, the one who killed the new-born babies of Bethlehem died (Mt 2, 16). His territory was divided among his sons, Archelaus, would govern Judea. He was less intelligent than his father, but more violent. When he assumed the power, approximately 3000 persons were massacred on the square of the Temple! The Gospel of Matthew says that Mary and Joseph, when they learnt that Archelaus had taken over the government of Galilee, were afraid and returned on the road and went to Nazareth, in Galilee, which was governed by another son of Herod, called Herod Antipas (Lk 3, 1). This Antipas governed over 40 years. During the thirty-three years of Jesus there was no change of government in Galilee.
Herod, the Great, the father of Herod Antipas, had constructed the city of Caesarea Maritime, inaugurated in the year 15 before Christ. It was the new port to get out the products of the region. They had to compete with the large port of Tyron in the North and, thus, help to develop trade and business in Samaria and in Galilee. Because of this, from the time of Herod the Great, the agricultural production in Galilee began to orientate itself no longer according to the needs of the families, as before, but according to the demands of the market. This process of change in the economy continued during all the time of the government of Herod Antipas, another forty years, and found in him an efficient organizer. All these governors were ‘servants of power’. In fact, the one who commanded in Palestine, from the year 63 before Christ, was Rome, the Empire.
• Herod wants to see Jesus. His was a superstitious and morbid curiosity. Others want to see Jesus because they seek a sense for their life. And I, what motivation do I have which moves me to see and encounter Jesus?
we shall sing and be happy all our days;
let our joy be as long as the time that you afflicted us,
the years when we experienced disaster. (Ps 90,14-15)
Today, we begin reading the Book of Ecclesiastes. If we are not careful in reading this book in perspective, it can lead us to have a very pessimistic and fatalistic view of life. This is because what the Preacher says is so true that we cannot but immediately identify with his sentiments. So we can end up giving up on life. Life seems to have no meaning. No matter what we do, what we achieve, what we have, all will come to naught. If that is the case, why work so hard and why seek to build anything at all? They will ultimately be destroyed. All our hard work and toil and labour will be in vain. So we enter into a state of despondency and lose all zeal for life and work, wishing that we die earlier.
We can even go to the other extreme of just enjoying life. Since life has no meaning, pleasure is what is left. So there are many people whose life is reduced to pleasure, eating, drinking and merry-making. They have no thought of tomorrow because there is no tomorrow. Left with today, they want to enjoy everything they can, including indulging in immoral activities because once dead, life is no more. So in desperation to seek happiness in life, they get themselves involved in all kinds of adventure, even risky ones to get the most out of life. Yet, at the end of the day, those whose lives are filled with pleasure, entertainment, sex and eating, are they really happy or fulfilled? Isn’t such a life no better than that of an animal?
Hence, it is important to read the teachings of the Preacher in context. Supposedly, the author of this book is King Solomon who was writing in his old age, around the 9th century. Appropriately, this book is placed next to the Song of Solomon. However, the style of writing appears to come much later, perhaps in the 3rdcentury before Christ. Regardless, the point remains that whoever the author was, he had arrived at the climax of his career and had begun to wonder what life was all about. Like King Solomon, he had all he wanted in life. He had riches, power, wives, glory and a beautiful palace to live in. So he was not lacking in anything. Yet, he was not at peace. He was not happy or fulfilled. This is very true for many people in the world. When they arrive at the height of their career and are now wealthy, powerful and have whatever life can afford, having enjoyed all these, they begin to wonder whether there is more to life than just eating, drinking, sex and entertainment.
Most painful of all is that if we live longer, we will see that all that we have done would be undone. Life just carries on with or without us. This is what the first reading seeks to express. Life is a cycle. History will repeat itself. “A generation goes, a generation comes, yet the earth stands firm forever. The sun rises, the sun sets; then to its place it speeds and there it rises. Southward goes the wind, then turns to the north; it turns and turns again; back then to its circling goes the wind. Into the sea all the rivers go, and yet the sea is never filled, and still to their goal the rivers go. All things are wearisome.” It is an endless repetition. We have seen what happened to those before us, great, wealthy and powerful men. Where are they today? So with us as well! We will go and join our forefathers in time to come.
And the reality is that we never learn. We should not be surprised. We know what history is like. We know that we cannot escape from the same end our forefathers had gone through. “No man can say that eyes have not had enough of seeing, ears their fill of hearing. What was will be again; what has been done will be done again; and there is nothing new under the sun. Take anything of which it may be said, ‘Look now, this is new.’ Already, long before our time, it existed. Only no memory of remains of earlier times, just as in times to come next year itself will not be remembered.” Nothing is new under the sun!
That is why we need to pray for wisdom of heart. The psalmist says, “Make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart. Lord, relent! Is your anger forever? Show pity to your servants.” Indeed, we need to see life in perspective. Otherwise we will end up disillusioned, like the Preacher, if we just continue with our worldly pursuits, giving so much time and energy and arrive at nothing. We are no happier than one who is less wealthy and powerful than us. This has happened to so many people because we keep listening to the world that says that we will only be happy if we are successful, have more money, a big house, a big car and food and holidays. Are these people really happy and at peace?
Realizing the mistakes of our forefathers, we must therefore avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. We must learn from them so that we can live happy, meaningful and fulfilling lives. Firstly, let us remember that life is short. “You turn men back to dust and say: ‘Go back, sons of men.’ To your eyes a thousand years are like yesterday, come and gone, no more than a watch in the night. You sweep men away like a dream, like the grass which springs up in the morning. In the morning it springs up and flowers: by evening it withers and fades.” For this reason, we must live as fully as possible and not allow time to be wasted away.
Secondly, to be happy presupposes we live a life of integrity, a life of responsibility, according to our conscience. We have King Herod in the gospel. He too was rich and successful. He had power and money but he was also living in guilt and fear, especially after sentencing the prophet, John the Baptist to death. He could not live with his guilt and could not forgive himself for committing such a heinous crime. He might have been able to continue with his adulterous relationship with Herodias but there was no peace. How can a couple truly love when there is no peace in that relationship? They can be together in bed but there is no real joy in love because there is no peace. A guilty person tends to read into every situation even when it has nothing to do with him. That was the case of Herod when he heard about Jesus, thinking it was John the Baptist who came back to life.
Thirdly, happiness is simply to enjoy whatever life can afford, especially spending time with our loved ones and friends in fellowship. Be happy and contented with what we have and make the best of it. Do not be envious of what others have that we do not have. If only we just make full use of what is given to us, we would be happy enough. This is what the psalmist says, “In the morning, fill us with your love; we shall exult and rejoice all our days.” We are to enjoy the little and big pleasures of life, the flowers in the garden, the morning exercise, the simple breakfast and occasionally, a holiday or a big meal and celebration. Such moments are little reprieves for the hard work we do and the stressful life we lead.
Fourthly, happiness and meaning is found in work. The psalmist prays, “Let the favour of the Lord be upon us: give success to the work of our hands.” Life is not all pleasure and enjoyment because they can satisfy the body but not the spirit. We have a soul and we have a mind. We need to feel and think. This is what makes us human. We need to exercise and use our potentials so that we can grow intellectually and mentally. Otherwise, we become demented in no time if we do not use our brains often. God gives us a mind to think and to be creative. So having a balanced life includes finding work that gives us meaning and purpose and can enrich us.
Fifthly, happiness in life comes when we give ourselves to others. If we want to be happy in life, it is not sufficient to take care of ourselves or our work; we need to expand our humanity by reaching out to those who need help. In reaching out to the poor and the suffering, we become more aware of our humanity; and it helps to develop the humanity inside us, drawing out from us our compassion, love and kindness. Knowing that we are capable of feeling with and caring for those who are suffering or deprived makes us more human. As we love them, we feel loved also in return. It is the human touch that keeps us human and not like a robot without feelings.
Finally, happiness ultimately depends on our relationship with God. A man without God, a man without a good prayer life will find that his life has no foundation, no goal and no purpose. That is why faith in God and in eternal life is what gives meaning to our life and brings everything we do on earth together. Faith in God is that thread that sews all things together, giving us a holistic life. This explains why those without God and without faith, in spite of their success, live unfulfilled lives. There is a vacuum and at the end of their life, they leave without hope for tomorrow. Such is the vanity of life without God. It seems this life is futile.
Indeed, if we observe these basic principles of life, then we need not end our life in resentment and disappointment. By living our life to the fullest in enjoyment, love, work and service, we have a foretaste of the life to come. By living a contented life, but not a complacent life, doing what we can, enjoying what is given to us and making ourselves useful to the world, we find that life is not too bad at all, even if this life will come to an end. What is important is not whether what we have achieved would continue but that through our involvement and contributions, we have built ourselves up in maturity in the manhood of Christ. The world is the arena in which we help to build the lasting city of love, peace and joy.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel. — Galatians 1:6
“Caution, the moving walkway is ending. Caution, the moving walkway is ending.” If you’ve ever used an automated walkway at an airport, you’ve heard this kind of announcement repeatedly.
Why do airports repeat this announcement over and over? To ensure safety and to protect them from liability if someone were to be injured.
Repeated announcements can be annoying, but they do have value. As a matter of fact, the apostle Paul thought repeating a warning was so vital that he did it in the text of Galatians. But his statement had value far beyond the danger of tripping at the airport. Paul warned them not to listen to, nor believe, him or an angel from heaven if they preached “any other gospel” than what they had already heard (1:8). In the next verse, Paul said it again. It was a warning worth repeating. The Galatians had begun to believe that their salvation was dependent on good works instead of the true gospel: faith in Christ’s work.
The gospel of Jesus—His death, burial, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins—is the story that we have the privilege and responsibility to share. When we present the gospel, let’s share that the risen Jesus is the only solution to the problem of sin. – Dave Branon
He is the way, the truth, the life—
That One whose name is Jesus;
There is no other name on earth
That has the power to save us. —Sper
Read: Galatians 1:6-10
Only one road leads to heaven — Jesus Christ is the way.
Tags: All things are vanity, Book of Ecclesiastes, Catholic Mass, disappointment, do not be afraid, eccl 1:2-11, Ecclesiastes 1:2-11, Galatians 1:6-10, His death - burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, house of God, I am the way and the truth and the life says the Lord, JN 14:6, John the Baptist, Lk 9:7-9, meaningless, No one comes to the Father except through me, One generation passes and another comes but the world forever stays, Only one road leads to heaven — Jesus Christ is the way, Prayer and Meditation, Prov 1:7, Psalm 149, Psalm 90, Rebuild my House”, Rebuild the house of the Lord, resentment, September 22 2016, Suffering and Death Are Part of Our Journey, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, The sun rises and the sun goes down, Vanity of vanities, What we should fear is the Lord