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The value of wisdom

  • October 1, 2015

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Oct. 11 (Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30)

You must run for your life in the face of a natural disaster. If you could take only your most precious possession, what would it be? Your car or house? Perhaps your financial portfolio or family heirlooms? The author of Wisdom had definite ideas on the matter, and his answer might be surprising to many. All the precious and valuable things in the world pale in comparison to his prize — the gift of wisdom. He heaped up superlatives singing wisdom’s praises and demonstrating how it is superior to everything else, even power, glory, gold and precious stones.

Why is wisdom so valuable, and what exactly is it? It is certainly not cleverness, technical know-how or information. One can possess all these things and be a very unwise person. Wisdom is the art of living a balanced, just, compassionate and humane life centred on spiritual principles. The wise person is able to make correct and helpful choices and to make sense out of the chaotic and confusing world that we live in. Most of all, they are able to act as guides, teachers, friends and support for others.

The wisdom figure used to be revered. Unfortunately, in our era we look for quick and easy answers. Dr. Phil, Oprah, Dear Abby and a host of glitzy celebrities or fear-mongering demagogues function as our source for life guidance. No wonder the world is in such distress! Wisdom is not human achievement. The author prayed and called out to God for this gift — not just once but probably unceasingly — and it was granted. The author never intends to let it slip away. Wisdom and love are the only things we can take with us when we leave this world. Our lives would be far better spent in pursuit of both.

The Word of God is very similar to wisdom. It’s not just what is written on a page. It describes any sort of communication or revelation from God. It is an active, dynamic force that can be found in creation, the events of salvation history, prophets or holy people, art, music and poetry, or in one’s life experience. In short, practically anything can function as a medium of God’s communication. The Word of God sounds rather scary. It upsets our complacency, challenges us to change the way we think and act, and shows us how little we know about life and how much we have to learn. When we pray for wisdom and open ourselves to God’s word, we should prepare ourselves for change.

There is no doubt that the rich young man was a fine person. He led an upright and religious life, and certainly behaved in a just and compassionate manner. But he sensed that there was something more, so he posed the question to Jesus: what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus immediately ascertained that he lacked one thing, so he challenged him. There was not a hint of disapproval or judgment in His words — the text states that He did so with love. If you want to be perfect, He said, give everything away and come follow me. The man was crushed and unable to accept the invitation. He had come up against the unyielding and uncompromising challenge of the Word of God in the person of Jesus. It had laid him bare, just as in the reading from Hebrews. The man depended on his wealth for security and identity and was still very attached to all that was his. Jesus didn’t ask him to let go of it as an act of asceticism, but so that he might gain something of far greater value. We could call it many things: wisdom, enlightenment, interior freedom and transformation; in fact, perhaps a mixture of all of these.

There are many sorts of “riches” that people cling to — control, security, pleasure, their own opinions and reputation are but a few. Letting go of the deathgrip we have on the things that give us security is the gateway to spiritual growth and illumination. It is similar to the simplicity, mercy and generosity of heart that Pope Francis has called us to. Jesus observed that it was so difficult and few were able, but with God’s grace, all things are possible. Let us seek the treasure that God offers us.

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