Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17
WHAT’S NEW, REALLY?
“I’ve seen it all.” “Is that all there is?” “Been there, done that.” These contemporary phrases seem to catch the spirit of the reading from Qoheleth (“The Preacher,” traditionally known by his Greek title, Ecclesiastes)—the famous “vanity of vanities” passage. Some people read that far and say, “Well, I can see why that is part of world literature, the way it catches the human experience of growing weary and stale from the ‘sameness’ of life, the apparently endless repetition of the patterns of nature and the failure human efforts of make sense and to satisfy one’s desires. But where’s faith in this groaning? Why is it in the Bible?” Well, the rest of that book does have some fine expressions of faith in a sustaining Creator who is the source of all good things. But the point of today’s reading is to set us up for the short piece from Luke.
The “vanity of vanities” passage puts us in touch with that human experience of tired redundancy—the daily fare of many on planet Earth and the occasional experience of all of us. And in doing so it gets us ready to hear the Gospel proclamation that there really is something new under the sun—Jesus!
Luke tells us about Herod’s puzzlement over Jesus. He hears the buzz of the people about Jesus. In the spirit of Qoheleth, they try to understand Jesus in terms of a repetition of something from the past—John raised, Elijah returned, or one of the ancient prophets risen from the dead—but Herod, at least, has some inkling that Jesus is someone new: “John I beheaded. Who is this man about whom I hear all these reports?”
I had long wondered what this little three-verse excerpt was supposed to communicate. Now, hearing it against the “vanity” speech of Qoheleth, I think I see the point: When I become weary of the apparent “sameness” of people and tasks, it is time to allow the newness of Jesus re-enter my life. For that newness of Jesus was part of his own message. He comes bringing new wine and requires new wineskins. He led those who responded to him to revise their notion of what the Messiah was supposed to be. After his death and resurrection, his followers were led to hear their Scriptures in a whole new way, as fulfilled in him. The familiar scrolls took on a fresh meaning. The old songs needed to be sung in a new key.
When my day, or my work, or my relationships seem to be falling into
sameness, it is time for me to invite the Spirit of Christ to freshen up
my awareness of his newness and to the new growth is inviting me to awaken
to. Jesus warned us that following him would be challenging, awkward,
embarrassing, painful even—but stale? No way.
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