11/6/11, Wisdom is Supreme

Wisdom is Supreme (Nov. 6, 2011)   Wisdom 6:12-16, 1Thes. 4:13-14, Matthew 25:1-13                                                       

This week I walked by the Christian Science reading room on Third Street and in its window there was a prominent sign:  “Wisdom is supreme- therefore, acquire wisdom.  Even if it costs you everything, get understanding.” Proverbs 4:7.

Today, our Old Testament and Gospel readings also focus attention on the importance of wisdom in the spiritual life. Wisdom is said to be the essential character trait for building a life of faith and productivity and positive witness to the grace of God in our lives.  In Old Testament scriptures, Wisdom is personified in the female gender, connected with the energetic force of God that created the universe. Biblical history notes that when Solomon succeeded his father David as King of Israel, he went before God’s altar with sacrifices and prayers. When God said, “What should I give you?” Solomon said, “Give me wisdom and knowledge… for who can rule this great people of yours?”  God’s answer: “Because this was in your heart and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor… and have not even asked for long life but have asked for wisdom and knowledge, wisdom and knowledge are given you.  I will also give you riches, possessions and honor such as none of the kings had who were before you and none after you shall have the like.”  Therefore Solomon is traditionally credited for the many of the wisdom writings in scripture, particularly Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon.  It is more likely that other sages and teachers of a later time than Solomon actually compiled these sayings.  Nevertheless, this Wisdom literature reminds us that the Spirit of Wisdom, an attribute of God’s very person,  is made available to us as well.  Since we are made in the image of God, we ought to cultivate and utilize wisdom so that our lives will be virtuous in relationship to others and so that we will be able to fulfill the purpose that God has for our lives.

Here’s a pop quiz for those of you who were confirmed in the Catholic faith, perhaps many  years ago.  When the bishop extended his hands over you and prayed for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, what seven specific gifts did he ask for? [Wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety (reverence) and fear of the Lord (wonder and awe in God’s presence.)]  Then he anointed your head with oil and said, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” 

Notice that word “gift.”  As we come into relationship with God, we are GIVEN freely what we will need to live in a virtuous and productive way.  We are given this gift of the Spirit that includes wisdom.  But what happens if someone hands you a gift that is beautifully wrapped and you fail to open and unpack it?  What if you just put the package up on the shelf because its appearance is so lovely you don’t want to spoil it?  Does that gift do you any good if you don’t take it out, explore its possibilities and use it?

Perhaps that’s the problem with many Christians who are confirmed but whose faith does not seem meaningful.  Could it be that they’ve never developed the full potential of the Spirit’s gift of wisdom within them?   They are like the five foolish maidens described in our gospel passage.  All ten maidens have similar lamps to light when the bridegroom shows up, but only the five wise maidens went the step further of making sure that their lamps were ready  when the time came for them to be lit.  In the moment of need, the five unwise maidens could not make use of what they possessed.  They knew all along it would take oil to make the lamps work, but they had not thought ahead and taken action to provide what would make their lamps functional.   This is the essence of wisdom: being able to apply the resources you have to meet the need of the moment at hand.   In other words, wisdom boils down to simply having and using good judgment.

This parable that Jesus tells is an example of the necessity of cultivating wisdom.  Wisdom is a potential gift in all of us. We must develop this gift so that we are ready to meet the challenges of life, some of which catch us by surprise. Wisdom is cultivated when we allow the knowledge we have accumulated to be shaped by our experience and our values so that we come to a common sense conclusion of the right action to take or advice to give in any given circumstance.  Wisdom requires an attitude of humility that is willing to listen and learn rather than stubbornly defend one’s position.  The gift of Wisdom is given freely but it is each person’s choice to grow wisdom’s potential into a mature understanding of what is true, right, and lasting. Then moral as well as practical decisions are shaped by wisdom rather than self-centered desires.

The reading from the Wisdom of Solomon is a beautiful description of wisdom and her inherent promise to be alive in everyone who desires her and seeks her presence.  Several weeks ago I shared a planning session with some other RomanCatholicWomenPriests.  We began our time together with a Mass that invoked Holy Wisdom’s presence and guidance.  The scripture we reflected on was the very same chapter 6 of Wisdom of Solomon that was given to us today, but in its fuller context. 

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A Reading from the Wisdom of Solomon   (6:1-3, 9-19, 21- The Inclusive Bible) 

Now listen well, you leaders, and take this to heart! 

You who hold power at the ends of the earth, take heed!                                       

Pay close attention, you who govern the masses, who take pride in the multitudes under your control: 

Any authority you have was given to you by Yahweh, 

God will examine all your actions and scrutinize all your intentions.

I speak then, to you who who hold power over the people, that you may learn wisdom and not be led astray;

Those who remain holy and walk the way of holiness will be regarded as holy, and those who have learned the lesson of justice will be able to defend themselves upon examination.

So give this your full attention:  Desire this lesson and you will learn it.

Wisdom shines brightly and never fades.

She is seen by those who love her and is found by those who seek her.

She reveals herself to all who desire to know her, and those who rise early to search for her will not grow weary of the journey, for they will find her seated at the door of their own homes.

To ponder her is the fullness of Wisdom, and to be loyal in her pursuit is the shortcut to freedom from care.

She searches the far ends of the earth for those who are worthy of her, and she appears to them on their daily path with kindness, meeting them halfway, in all their journeys.

The true meaning of Wisdom is the desire to learn, and to be passionate about learning is to love her.

If you who rule over people wish to keep your thrones and symbols of power, then honor Wisdom so that you may lead forever.

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Can you imagine what this scripture brought up for us as RomanCatholicWomenPriests?  We thought first about how obviously it spoke to the present lack of wisdom in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church… a lack of sound judgment and foresight that is dealing spiritual death to the people that the rulers are supposed to be guiding with compassion.  It spoke to us of our need to pray for wisdom for these leaders, and for the political leaders of our governments.  It also spoke to us of our own need at the level of families and communities to cultivate and use wisely the gift of Wisdom that has been given to us. 

Would you join me in prayer for the flourishing of Wisdom at all levels of life: political, spiritual and personal?

By Sandra DeMaster