Today friends, we continue winding down on the Church Year, heading toward Advent. We will concentrate on our continued journey, following our brother, Jesus, an idea that was scarce during the previous papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but one that Francis is most comfortable with.
Once again; we are treated to a reading from the Wisdom literature as we reflect on how best to follow our brother Jesus. Wisdom is something we are told we should seek after, but often we know this fact more in hindsight than we do at the outset of our journeys through life. Wisdom is described as “understanding fully grown.” The Wisdom writer tells us that wisdom wants to be found as much as we want to find it. Additionally, we are told that wisdom has a feminine personification—modern exegetes name wisdom, the feminine face of God and Sophia is her name. Finally, we hear that wisdom is found by those who seek her.
I believe when exegetes stop short as Diane Bergant does, in making the bold claim that Wisdom is the feminine face of God, it is because they have felt the “long arm of the [Roman] law” from a hierarchical church that couldn’t imagine God in feminine characteristics, graciousness being one of them.
But they should because the idea of wisdom being personified as a woman is part of the tradition of Israel, our roots. In addition, the People of God, in the covenant with their Creator, were always searching for the One they were in covenant with. The psalmist today speaks beautifully and with great longing about the desire to be united to this One, a longing comparable to an arid land longing for water and as we sang so beautifully, “Your love is finer than life.”
These last Sundays of the Church Year have an urgency about them and the Wisdom literature is perfect for helping us to, as it were, “get our ducks in a row.” Wisdom should be sought early, we are told, and exegetes say, this might mean; we should seek her in the morning—or my thought—perhaps we should seek God’s mind and heart first before moving ahead in any situation concerning ourselves and others.
Wisdom, we are told, waits at the city gates—she wants to be where the action is—where life is—at the heart of things. Bergant tells us that wisdom signals “a meaning and a purpose behind and within everything.” If we seek her, she will “graciously appear in our paths” and meet us in our every thought, showing us the way as Jesus said before physically leaving the earth. But, the operative word is, “If,” we seek her!
The Wisdom writer goes on to say that we will have to work to obtain her—she will be at the deepest levels and perhaps that is why many do not find her. We are encouraged to reflect deeply on our life experiences and look to the heart for the meaning. Again, we must keep in mind that we will find her, only through the heart. It is unfortunate that so much of what we have heard from Rome and the official ecclesia comes from the head. Fortunately though, we have seen a switch in Pope Francis! We will know we have connected to and with wisdom by her fruits—peace and security, meaning and fulfillment and once we have found wisdom; we will see her everywhere, we are told.
I think back to the significant decisions in my life: to enter the convent, to leave the convent, to get married, to pursue ordination—in all these decisions, after prayer, if there was peace for the most part, then I knew it was Spirit-led.
So, it would seem important as we are doing today, to spend a good amount of time on “wisdom.” For me, it is the connecting piece between the other readings as we reflect on the end of the Church Year and on the end times. Wisdom teaches us to seek the help that is present—the parable of the ten attendants in the gospel is a caution to prepare for what is coming—it isn’t something we should fear if in fact we seek after wisdom and order in our lives. We were created to care for ourselves and others—to always seek that balance. It can’t simply be about us, as individuals, us, as a nation of people, as is apparent in rhetoric coming from Washington at present.
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is his answer to their questions about death. They had the misunderstanding from what Paul had already taught concerning Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that their loved ones shouldn’t die and now that some of them had, was it really true all that Paul was saying?
His letter is a comfort to them in their fear and anxiety; that “yes,” all he promised would come to pass—Jesus had lived and died, he had risen and indeed; he would come again. No doubt, Holy Wisdom was backing up Paul’s words as he explained to them the wonderful words recorded later to the Romans—“Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus, the Christ” (Romans 8: 38-39).
The gospel recorded in Matthew that we shared today might seem harsh, but we must remember what Jesus was trying to teach here. It was all about being prepared, not about being generous. For those of us wanting to make everything “nice,” we might think, well why didn’t those “selfish,” albeit prepared attendants share some of their oil with those who didn’t have any? It seems that being prepared for the end times is all about doing something that only we as individuals can do—no one can prepare us except ourselves. It is for the same reason that we don’t give our children everything they ask for—because it wouldn’t help them to grow up, to be good, strong and confident people. And as those of you who are parents know, it isn’t always easy to deny something that we can give, but it makes all the difference in the end.
So friends, wisdom really is the key in understanding the message of the Scriptures today. Wisdom teaches us that we can’t live as though the end is upon us, only that indeed, it will come and the only way we can live fully is to live in the present—we don’t know what the future will bring—that’s where faith comes in—we must trust the wisdom of the past—that God has been there in many ways, blessing our path through life and that God will be there in our future too.
Rather than look ahead with fear—wisdom allows us to live fully in the present here and now, believing in the love of our God to complete all in the future in the way that it was meant to be. This reminds me of a poignant conversation that I had recently with a wise elder. For me, he is the epitome of one living in the present, now, knowing inherently as I think one comes to know as we age, that length of days for him is in the past, but with faith, he moves with joy toward the length of days that eternity offers.