Eccl 1:2-11 ; Ps 90:3-6,12-14,17 ; Lk 9:7-9
In every age hope emerges, perhaps we may gain wisdom of heart. With today’s psalm we ponder this hope, and we join with people of every generation in praying, “Return, O LORD!” We are dust and unto dust we shall return. Indeed, the LORD summons us back to him saying, “Return, O children of men.” The LORD calls us to return, and we plead for the LORD to return. He summons us, and we beckon him. Yet, the eternal perspective of the Eternal LORD is beyond our ability to understand. For the LORD thousands of generations are less than a daytime nap. We are born into this world and we leave this world almost as fast as the blink of an eye. Yet, the longing of our hearts in youth and while aged is to gain wisdom of heart. We plead with the LORD to teach us to “number our days aright.” Until we place our entire life in the eternity of God’s life we gain no perspective; we are foolish. To move beyond our own self-importance and to see all our days in the context of God’s endless day is to number our days aright and to gain wisdom. Yet, in the midst of such a perspective the deepest longing of our hearts is heard in the prayer, “Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!” Unless the LORD walks with us in the cool of the evening, unless we can rely on the LORD visiting us day by day, we live in fear. Only the LORD can provide the companionship we need to walk through history with purpose. Indeed, when the LORD is our refuge we dare to pray, “Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.” With the LORD at our side we cry out, “Prosper the work of our hands for us! Prosper the work of our hands!” The wise man Qoheleth found vanity to be the answer to his probing of human life. Perhaps he had gained the only wisdom of heart that one can glean without the LORD returning. Herod the tetrarch was also in search of wisdom. Perhaps his only wisdom was keep trying to see the Lord Jesus. Indeed, the Lord Jesus could not be any closer to us than he is in the Eucharist, but have we gained wisdom of heart?
Perhaps the only wisdom we can gain from a lifetime of searching is that of Qoheleth, “All things are vanity!” All things, the entire creation without the LORD, is vanity and a puff of smoke. We can easily fool ourselves into thinking that in labor, in the toil and in the tools of production is our dignity, yet after all is said and done everything remains the same. The human heart is unconvinced of its own value and true dignity. Things and the production of more things do not give us ourselves. We cannot toil our way into significance. “One generation passes and another comes, but the world forever stays!” Clearly we have yet to gain wisdom of heart. All of nature upon careful analysis only produces more questions. There are no absolute and definitive answers in the rising and setting of the sun, in the blowing of the winds, or in the flowing of the rivers. Even all our talking about the wonders around us in all of nature is labored and ceaseless. What can we say that hasn’t already been said? Even after we magnify our vision to behold distant galaxies and the tiniest of molecules, still we are not satisfied with our seeing. Even after we digitize and surround sound every concert and speech available in analogue format, still we are not satisfied with our hearing. All that we consider new is only something we have forgotten over the years. Indeed, all our remembering will be forgotten given enough years. All our anxiety and all our great plans are no more than a puff of smoke, a passing illusion. Indeed, we who strive to make sense out of all we experience have yet to gain wisdom of heart. The meaning of all creation and even the meaning of those who seek such meaning is a gift from God, who made heaven and earth and all that is in them. We cannot give ourselves to ourselves. Indeed, we must receive the gift of who we are and whose we are from the only one who is new, fresh, and vibrant every day. The LORD who cries out, “Behold I make all things new! Do you not perceive it? Have you not gained wisdom of heart?”
From the lofty ponderings of Qoheleth the Liturgy of the Word takes us into the narrow and frightened concerns of a petty tyrant, Herod the tetrarch. This puppet king is informed about all that was happening right under his nose. Within the boundaries of his own domain the True King had begun to gather those who were wise and those who were foolish. Perhaps this new preacher was really John the Baptist returned from the grave. Others thought he might be the long expected Elijah come to prepare the people for the end of the world and the beginning of the Kingdom of God. Clearly this Jesus was filled with the energy and attraction of the ancient prophets of Israel. All this news caused a bit of trembling in the-would be-royal heart of this earthbound ruler. Herod, in his wisdom, knew it was not John the Baptist because he had seen his head on a platter. No beheaded prophet had ever come back to preach again. Who is this Jesus about whom Herod hears so much? Is he really anything new under the sun, or is he another false messiah just begging to have his head chopped off? Perhaps, Herod needed to gain wisdom of heart rather than rely on his own power to silence prophets. Perhaps, Herod had gained some wisdom of heart when he continued to try and see the Lord Jesus. Perhaps we can learn something from Herod the tetrarch.