28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Wisdom is the source of this weekend’s first reading. As the name implies, this ancient book was designed to convey the sense that believing in the one God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is not ridiculous but in fact the ultimate in wisdom and human logic.
In this weekend’s reading, an interesting literary technique occurs. Wisdom is presented not as an abstract virtue or reality of the mind, but as a person. Christians long ago came to identify the most profound wisdom with the Holy Spirit.
Three popes, Paul VI, Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI have visited Istanbul, in the modern state of Turkey. Istanbul is important in Christian history since before 1453 it was the capital of the great, and thoroughly Christian, Byzantine Empire. Then, it was called Constantinople, and this name endured until the early 20th century.
The centerpiece of each papal visit was Istanbul’s architectural marvel, the Hagia Sophia, now a museum, once a mosque, but originally the chief church in the Byzantine Empire, dedicated to “holy wisdom,” or to God, the “Spirit of Wisdom.”
This title celebrated the ancient belief among Jews, and among thoughtful Christians, that God’s wisdom is the greatest wisdom. God’s wisdom alone, true wisdom, guides humans to life and to joy in life, whatever comes.
Yet, throughout time, people have spent their earthly lives following what they presumed to be a wisdom better than the divine. Not surprisingly, they have reaped the whirlwind.
For its second reading, the Church presents a section from the Epistle to the Hebrews. Knowing what God has revealed, and living accordingly, represents the greatest wisdom.
St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. Asked what is essential to possessing eternal life, Jesus answers that the person truly wishing to have life must obey the Ten Commandments, the great gift of God to the people of Israel through Moses.
Asked further, Jesus replied that a person must disregard the thirst for that thing so strong among humans, wealth, and in turn give to the poor.
The man asking the questions could not personally accept this last admonition. He could not remove himself from the belongings he had acquired.
It is easy to look at this man and judge him as foolish. Before rushing to condemn him, it is good to remember that all humans would be tempted to respond to Jesus as did he. Forsaking the lure of earthly gain requires great wisdom, and this wisdom comes from faith.
In the long and eventful history of France, few leaders exceeded in power and influence Cardinal Armand Jean de Plessis (1585-1642), Duc de Richelieu, who served for many years as chief minister, or prime minister, to the French king, Louis XIII.
As he was dying, Cardinal Richelieu supposedly said, “If I had exchanged my cardinal’s red for the Carthusian white (habit), my palace for a (monastic) cell, I would not be afraid to die.”
The cardinal of four centuries ago was hardly the only person ever to look back upon life regretting that so much energy was spent on obtaining earthly things and control.
Realizing the true value of spiritual riches, and living in accord with this realization, is the greatest wisdom. Knowing that eternal life rests upon spiritual vitality characterizes the genuinely wise.
Even among persons professing Christianity, and indeed even among those wishing to be devout and good disciples, the lure of things, of personal adulation, and of the comfortable can be very strong.
In these readings, the Church calls us to true wisdom. To confirm its teachings as wisdom, we need only to remember so many others who have found true wealth, the wealth of the spirit in loving God above everything.
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