The quest for wisdom began from the very moment man was struck with “wonder”. Wisdom may be related to knowledge and intelligence but isn’t simply intelligence or knowledge or even understanding. It springs from the Greek word “σοφία” (Sophia), which in simple terms, is the ability to utilize knowledge, intelligence and understanding to think and act in such a way that common sense prevails, thus, discerning and judging what is true, right or wrong. In the Christian parlance, wisdom begins and ends with the fear of the Lord. It isn’t a fear of being struck by lightning or fear of being struck dead, but it’s a deep, abiding, holy reverence and respect for the Lord and for His Word. Little wonder the biblical sage says: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Pr. 9:10).
From the very beginning, man has been preoccupied with the acquisition and application of wisdom in every event of life; and many a time fails to decipher the will of the “giver of wisdom” (God). It becomes apparent that the wisdom of this life is different from the wisdom that comes from above (Divine Wisdom). Little wonder Paul exclaims: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say, He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness. And again; the Lord knows the plans of the wise and how worthless they are.” (1Cor. 3:19-20).
Dear friends in Christ, today’s Readings present to us the Wisdom of God as opposed to human wisdom, ways of thinking etc. How can we understand this?
The First Reading from the Book of Wisdom (9:13-18) illustrates how the ways of God are mysterious and our inability to understand them. The book of Wisdom was written about a century before the coming of Jesus, by a devout Jew living in cosmopolitan Alexandria in Egypt. One of his purposes was to strengthen the Faith of fellow Jews living in a world indifferent, and sometimes hostile, to their beliefs. Today’s passage deals with the ability of the human mind to grasp the ways of God (the Divine Wisdom). God’s mind is so unique that we must constantly, and deliberately, pray for Heavenly wisdom. Hence, we must prepare our plan of action in Christian discipleship, relying on the power and light of the Holy Spirit in living out our Christian spirituality rooted in God’s wisdom.
If we sincerely consider the message of the Second Reading (“Paul’s” letter to Philemon, verse 9-10, 12-17) we would perhaps ask ourselves this questions: why should St Paul, having devoted most of his life to the spread of the gospel of Christ, end up a prisoner in chains, with death by violence to follow? Where is the wisdom behind this? What is the gain in living a devoted life of the gospel? Was Paul wise at all in his decision to follow Christ? To the world, Paul made a foolish decision; however, it takes only the Divine Wisdom (the help of the Holy Spirit) to decipher the gain of being a true disciple of Christ and persevering to the end, amidst suffering and persecution, like Saint Paul. Why did Paul write this letter to Philemon? What was the context? Paul wrote this letter from prison to his friend Philemon, challenging him to express his commitment to Christ as a true disciple by treating Onesimus (his runaway slave) “no longer as a slave but as a brother.” Critical scriptural study reveals that Philemon was a Colossian, a wealthy and a personal friend of Paul. Philemon had been converted to the Christian faith through Paul’s ministry. Philemon had a slave called Onesimus who had robbed him and fled to Rome. God’s grace led Onesimus to the prison where Paul was being held, and the Apostle took compassion on him, leading Onesimus also to the Christian faith. Then Paul sent Onesimus back to his master (Philemon) in Colossae with a letter pleading with the master, not only to spare Onesimus severe punishment, but also to show him sympathy, affection and Christian brotherhood. Paul was able to utilize the Divine Wisdom in convincing Philemon to accept Onesimus and treat him like a brother. This would not have been possible if Paul were to utilize the wisdom of man.
In the same vein, the Gospel Reading (Luke 14:25-33) presents a dynamic interpretation of our subject matter (Divine Wisdom). Taking a look at the Gospel, we ask ourselves, why is it that in order to be a disciple of Christ, we must “renounce” earthly possessions and pleasures and eventually carry a “cross”? To the world, this idea sounds foolish, but with the help of the Holy Spirit (Divine Wisdom), we come to a proper understanding of this “cost of discipleship”. Let us look at the context of the reading and what led Christ to make such a seemingly “harsh statement”. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem where he would be crucified. But the crowd in their earthly wisdom thought that he was going to Jerusalem to overthrow the Romans and to reestablish the old Davidic kingdom of Israel. Jesus was enormously popular with the crowds as a great healer, brave teacher and miracle worker. Looking at the cheering masses travelling with him, however, Jesus in
his Divine Wisdom, frankly put before them the strenuous conditions for discipleship. He says: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
When we hear a gospel passage like this, we often find ourselves wondering whether Jesus really meant that we should turn our backs on our families. Or was he exaggerating? Is it really necessary to hate and abhor our parents, family, brothers and sisters and even ourselves in order to follow Him? Where is the wisdom in this statement? Taking a look at the Jewish culture (in the Middle East), anyone who deliberately cut ties with family and social network would lose the ordinary means of making a living. Further, a person’s life and family relationships were a necessity for security and identity, regardless of social position. Why was Jesus, who had been recommending that his followers love everybody, including their enemies, suddenly announces that no one could be his disciple unless he hated his own family? If we take these recommendations so literarily, we would miss out the point. Matthew’s Gospel makes it clear. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:37-38). When Jesus said “hate your family,” He was engaging in “poetic expression” to emphasize the kind of dedication He expected from His followers. Put differently, He was talking about our spiritual detachment, and utilizing the Divine Wisdom which grants us the ability to put God first, before others/self-interest. Without such detachment, one would not have the ability truly to follow Jesus.
The Divine Wisdom will lead us to understand that true happiness can never be found in this life. Just as the psalmist expresses today in the Responsorial Psalm (Ps. 90); it shows the brevity and uncertainty of this life: “like grass which springs up and flowers in the morning, by evening, it withers and fades”. We should ask the Lord to “teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain Wisdom of heart; this would enable us to understand that “God indeed has been our refuge from one generation to the next”. This gives us more reasons to adhere to Christ (our refuge) as true disciples and equally accepting the hardship that comes with it (cross). Above all, let us endeavour to seek this Divine Wisdom and live out its values even if it appears contrary to the wisdom of this world.
May God continue to bless you as you listen to his Word today. Amen.