Behold, I Make All Things New

Today’s first reading comes from Ecclesiastes.  There’s some debate over how to understand the sayings of Qoheleth, but I think the correct understanding is that the Book explores the futility of life without God: that even if you try and “live life to the fullest,” without God, that’s ultimately a pretty empty thing.  As a result, the Book is pretty bleak.

We entered the world in a state of wonder.  Watch a baby sometime, and you’ll see what I mean.  They have a sense of awe that we’ve mostly lost.  They realize that the world is an amazing thing.  Yet so many of us have lost this sense of wonder, and long for more than this world offers, or can offer. Here’s Ecclesiastes 1:2-11, today’s first reading:

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, 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.

At Mass, the priest compared this view of the world with a merry-go-round.  We have our ups and downs, but find ourselves going through the same motions time after time.  We end up saying and doing the same things over and over to no avail.  What once seemed novel (and only because of our ignorance of our history, as Qoheleth reminds us) now seems old-hat.  This is, I fear, an accurate statement of the world in which we live.  The world has grown bored of its own excesses. In a world in which the envelope is daily pushed, even sin seems dull.

The truth is, we’re made for more than this. Just as the eye is not satisfied with seeing nor is the ear satisfied with hearing, we feel in our souls we’re called to more than we’re capable of obtaining on our own here on Earth. The Bible has a ready answer for this hunger: 1 Corinthians 2:9 quotes Isaiah 64:4 as: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Our eyes, our ears, our minds, and our souls long for more, and God promises the faithful that we’ll reach that fulfillment someday.  Today’s Responsorial Psalm also answers the despair Qoheleth describes.  The refrain is In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.”  Instead of the constant ups and down and cycles of the world, there’s something Someone stable to Whom we can cling.

But the surest and the best hope comes from today’s Gospel.  It’s a short one, from Luke 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.

It’s easy to overlook the parallel to the first Reading.  It is, in many ways, the beginning of the answer.  Herod hears of Jesus, and yet look at how he hears of Him: as another John the Baptist, as another Elijah, or as another of the ancient prophets.  That’s a pretty vivid image of the pessimism Qoheleth describes: “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.”  The people are expecting simply another turn around the senseless Merry-Go-Round, and are skeptical that Jesus is really anything more than the same thing they’ve been used to.

But here’s the thing: the people are wrong, and even Herod seems to suspect this.  Isaiah 43:19 foretold that God Himself would break this dreary cycle: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert, and streams in the wasteland.” Christ came and broke the terrible cycle, and the people were shocked.  Just listen to the crowd’s stunned reaction to Jesus in Mark 1:27: “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority!”  This culminates in His Passion, and on the night before He Died, He created a New Covenant in His Blood at the Eucharist, as Jeremiah 31:31 foretold (Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25).  The creation of the New Covenant is completed with Christ shedding this Blood on the Cross, as Hebrews 9:15 tells us. This New Covenant isn’t just novel: it’s superior to the Old, as Hebrews 8 explains (see particularly v. 7 and 13). In creating the New Covenant, He offers us a new way (Romans 7:6), and the ability to become a new creation in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17).  All of this is to be brought to completion at the Second Coming, with the creation of “a new heaven and a new earth,” (Revelation 21:1), at which time the Lord declares: “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). It’s this same Lord who promises a cure to the quiet desperation of life’s merry-go-round, who hears the cry of Qoheleth, and the cry of people today, longing for more than a life without Him offers.

P.S.  It’s the Feast Day of one of my favorite saints: St. Padre Pio!

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