Protestants, accustomed to reading the King James, or authorized, version of the Bible, often ask Catholics why Catholic versions, or the Catholic liturgy, include the Book of Wisdom. The King James Version omits it.
Wisdom was one of several Old Testament discounted by the biblical scholars who prepared the English version for King James I of England.
The Roman Catholic Church, long before the Reformation and certainly since, has taught that Wisdom indeed is the word of God. Wisdom provides this weekend with its first reading.
Wisdom was written amid cultural warfare in which the Jews had to fight for their identity. Many had left the Holy Land to find better conditions elsewhere. Living elsewhere meant that they were in the midst of pagans.
These pagans had all the advantages, and they were firmly in control. Ignoring all these advantages was not easy. Especially, Jewish parents had to inspire their children, understandably impressed by the dazzle of the pagan world, to hold fast to the seemingly rigid demands of the religion of their forebears. The Wisdom Literature, including the Book of Wisdom, developed as part of this effort to defend, explain and perpetuate the ancient beliefs of the Chosen People.
More directly about this weekend’s reading, Wisdom very clearly illustrates the struggle between good and evil, between God and human evil. This conflict causes a situation not best described as two ships passing silently in the night. Rather, there is no place for evil in the presence of God, and vice versa.
The Epistle to James offers us the second reading. This clear and frank message speaks of those human activities that are at root and in expression evil. The epistle warns that hardness of heart, and wicked intentions, lead humans to unholy but also destructive behavior.
St. Mark’s Gospel supplies the last reading. Jesus predicts the crucifixion. He forecasts being seized and delivered to evil persons. He also declares that after the crucifixion, in three days will come the resurrection. He will prevail.
It is important to note that in this reading, as so often in all the four Gospels, Jesus gathers together the apostles as special students, especially called, and personally commissioned to build the church.
However, they still are humans, vulnerable to human pettiness and sin. Reminding them to be servants to all, Jesus calls them to humility and to live in the model that the Lord has set.
In this model will be security.
The church has called us through the biblical readings at Mass these weeks to discipleship. It has not led us down a primrose path. Last weekend, it called us to ponder, to celebrate, and to connect with the cross. If we truly follow Christ, we must walk the path through a hostile world to our own Calvary.
In this weekend’s first reading, from Wisdom, we are reminded once more that discipleship is not easy. The world stands utterly opposite Jesus. We cannot stand midway between Christ and evil. We must choose one or the other.
If we choose evil, as the epistle recalls, we move toward our destruction.
However, Jesus is with us. He is with us in the teachings of the apostles whom the Lord commissioned to continue the work of salvation. In their teachings, applied even now in the visible, institutional church, we hear Jesus. He is with us in the sacraments, also conveyed to us through the twelve.
Jesus does not thunder into our hearts and homes. We must welcome the good and saving crucified Savior. The first step in this process is to acquire the humility to know who we are and what we need. We are humans, with all the dignity and limitations within the term. We need God with us in Jesus.
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