Vanity of vanities, the Preacher says. Vanity of vanities. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity! For all his toil, his toil under the sun, what does man gain by it?
A generation goes, a generation comes, yet the earth stands firm for ever. 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. 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 remains of earlier times, just as in times to come next year itself will not be remembered.
Herod the tetrarch had heard about all that was being done by Jesus; and he was puzzled, because some people were saying that John had risen from the dead, others that Elijah had reappeared, still others that one of the ancient prophets had come back to life. But Herod said, ‘John? I beheaded him. So who is this I hear such reports about?’ And he was anxious to see Jesus.
For all his toil, what does Man gain by it?
What a question! These existentialist questions have long been written about by philosophers who posited that Man’s very true essence is his individuality, his independent actions and his conscious ‘being’ in the world, through which he creates his own values and determines a meaning to his life. There is a kind of hapless desperation to such a worldly definition of man’s existence. It creates a need in one to ‘make good of life’, or else there is nothing worthy to be talked of about one’s existence at the end of life!
By the world’s standards, we count our gain from the successes of our toils. What is my worth? For some, “I am my paycheck; I am my job description; I am the praises or insults that others accord me; I am the success of my career; I am the beautiful house and property I own.” This we count as our legacy.
“Into the sea all the rivers go, and yet the sea is never filled, and still to their goal the rivers go […] What was will be again; what has been done will be done again; and there is nothing new under the sun.” This we are told in today’s first reading. Let us not feel sorry for ourselves that our lives are but the river waters that flow into the same sea, or that our lives and accomplishments are in reality nothing new under the sun. Let us rejoice in this amazing truth that we are all made for eternity – that, our lives having been redeemed by Christ is worth far more than the dollars and cents that we count, scrimp, and save, in this world. We live this life not by taking or keeping, but by giving and sharing.
How does this transform your understanding of your existence today? You are part of God’s great plan of humanity; your search for meaning in this life, in your daily toils is shared by the people who trudge alongside you in this seeming daily drudgery. Your quenchless thirst for significance beyond your economic contribution to this country, your loved ones, is deeply felt by Jesus who came down to earth and lived a life like yours. Do not feel alone. Do not feel helpless. Do not despair. Come to the Father who will give you a true meaning and purpose in life.
“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, says the Lord; No one can come to the Father except through me.” John 14:6.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
P.S. This reflection is pulled from our Archives of 2012.
Prayer: Jesus, I ask you to show me the way to eternity. Show me the little simple ways in which I can grow in faith in You and discover my life’s meaning.
Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord Jesus for walking beside me as I search for the meaning of my life, as I try to grapple with your purpose for me as I am here in this family, this workplace, this world.