Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north;
round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow.
All things are wearisome; more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said, "See, this is new"?
It has already been, in the ages before us.
The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.
Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen.
Herod said, "John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?" And he tried to see him.
A type of ennui can set in when we have too much, too soon. Etched into the memory of the world are those opening lines of Qoheleth, otherwise called Ecclesiastes. The name refers to a preacher to an assembly. But the entire book suggests an assembly that was not a liturgical one nor was the preacher any ordained minister. This wise cynic, this troubling questioner, this tongue-in-check jokester, this affluent writer who owned so much yet called it all a puff of wind, this sage keeps us guessing from the opening word: Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities... All things are mere vanity.
Qoheleth does not talk about liturgy but takes a long, hard look at life. We are to contemplate life as it is and to admit that it is all very boring, unless we begin to seek the way, wisdom, "It is from the hand of God" (2:24), from beginning to end, the work which God has done" (3:11), "rather, fear God." (5:6), "God made humankind straight, but people have had recourse to many calculations" (7:29). He ends his twelfth and last chapter with these words: The last word is: fear God and keep his commandments, for this is all, for human beings. This may not seem like exalted spirituality, yet it is no small thing to shake loose from complacency and begin our conversion.
Then we have Luke's portrayal of Herod the Tetrarch, for whom religion was a curiosity, a temporary pill to soothe conscience, a clever way, winning allegiance. It is tragic to think that his wish to see the Nazarene prophet was fulfilled only when for political reasons Pilate sent him the captive Jesus. We are told that "Herod was extremely pleased to see Jesus" (Lk 23:8). Religion, like Jesus, can be used for politics and pleasure, the saddest way to relieve boredom.
Different people reacted to Jesus in different ways. Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, was tetrarch of Galilee during the public ministry of Jesus. He ruled Galilee on behalf of Rome. Luke portrays the way this Herod reacted to Jesus. Luke says that when Herod heard about all that was being done by Jesus he was puzzled. He was asking himself the question, "Who is this?" As a result, he was anxious to see Jesus. In Luke's gospel Herod finally did get to see Jesus. In the course of the passion of Jesus Pilate sent Jesus to Herod for a second opinion but Luke tells us that although Herod questioned him at great length, in the end Herod and his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt and mocked him. Herod was curious about Jesus, but his curiosity did not lead to faith. Yet, there were other people in the gospels who were curious about Jesus and whose curiosity eventually led them to faith. Nathanael and Nicodemus come to mind. Even for people of faith, there is much to be curious about in regard to Jesus. The question of Herod Antipas, "Who is this?" is a good question for us all. It is a question that keeps us searching for Jesus and we always need to be searchers in his regard because we can never know him fully in this life. As Saint Paul says, "now we see as in a mirror dimly." We are all on a quest to know the Lord more clearly so as to love him more dearly and follow him more nearly.