My friends, the clear theme, stemming from the Scripture readings today on this 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, is to look to “wisdom” in our lives as we attempt to follow our brother, Jesus.
In the first reading from the Old Testament book of Wisdom, we hear the writer, thought to be, King Solomon, as he supposedly writes to the rulers of the earth, say, “I prayed, and understanding was given me…wisdom came to me…and I valued [her] above even my throne and scepter and all my great wealth was nothing next to this.”
The second reading from the New Testament book of Hebrews, often thought to have been written by Paul, but in more present day, it is thought that this letter many have been penned by one of Paul’s disciples, Barnabas, continues the idea of the 1st reading speaking to “wisdom” and the goodness, rightness of this gift in our lives. The Hebrew’s writer speaks of God’s Word as, “living and active”— “piercing deeply,” able to judge the thoughts and, “intentions of the heart,” and that all, “is exposed to God.” I believe we can look at these words and agree that the writer is speaking about the “wisdom” of God.
The gospel from Mark today gives us a piece of wisdom that seems to frame our thinking and purpose here, by reminding us of Jesus’ words, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kin-dom of God.” So, let’s try and unpack these readings and more clearly see their import for us today—as we have said recently, “not just nice stories, for past times, but for us, as well.
The majority of people, ourselves included, live by the status quo—what are others doing? —and then, do the same—quite a natural thing to do. It definitely keeps the peace. Unfortunately, living like the “status quo” doesn’t necessarily, call forth the best in us.
As Jesus’ followers—we are called to more, and deciding, “how to live,” we must go to our hearts—as that is where the truth lies. Looking to the masses often brings more of, “comfort living” and acceptance of, “what is,” rather than, “what could be.”
I said above that the majority of us follow the “status quo” way of life, as frankly, it is the easier way to go. And who of us is looking for trouble? But my friends, that is often precisely, what our walk with Jesus calls us to do—make trouble, and not simply, for “trouble’s sake,” but for bringing about justice. John Lewis, civil rights leader, and former congressman—now deceased, called this action, making, “good trouble!”
When we name the injustice, and there is so much of it in our country where non-whites, women, and the poor, to name just a few groups, are concerned; we can many times find ourselves in the minority proclaiming this truth. How many of us could be truly “convicted” of being a “Christian” on the evidence of our lived experience? I ask this question of myself and of you, because my dear friends, this is our true mission in this world. Being a Christian should not slip us easily into the ranks of status quo living—what we might call, “comfort living.”
Three years ago, when we addressed these readings, I shared the story of a Catholic priest, Father Jim Callahan who pastors St. Mary’s parish in Worthington, MN. He works primarily with the immigrant population there who labor in the meat-processing plant owned and operated by Swift and Company.
Over the years, Father Jim has provided asylum protection for immigrants, here illegally, within the church walls when needed, against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He, is of course, in the minority where male, Catholic priests are concerned—most, like Father’s Jim’s predecessor, don’t “want to get involved.” And I would believe that his work continues, as should all of ours, in the tradition of our brother, Jesus.
We, each of us, needs to listen to “Lady Wisdom—Sophia,” too, as she makes known her truth to us, and then act. The problems in our immigration system continue, gun violence still has a “life of its own,” on our streets and in our country; politicians—too many of them, have forgotten what they were sent to Washington or State Houses to do, violence against women and now, especially, Native women, continues. All of these issues call to us, “to go to our hearts,” where Lady Wisdom lives.
The “lady” of which we speak when describing, “wisdom” is the term used from ancient times—pre-Christian in fact, denoting that wisdom has a feminine nature, character and face. This notion was carried over then in Old Testament literature where Sophia (Wisdom) does indeed speak of the feminine face of God. One wonders why, then, what was good and appropriate for our forebears in the faith, should be so hard for the present-day hierarchy to get their “heads” around. As Sandra Schneiders said so well, “God is more than two men and a bird.” Perhaps if they came at it, from their, “hearts,” where Lady Wisdom lives, it wouldn’t be so hard.
A present-day example of coming at things with one’s head is the recent, unfortunate, in-action of Pope Francis as he made changes to the Code of Canon Law (Book VI) on offenses and punishments, in June of this year. His in-action was his, “failure to correct the mis-characterization of the ‘grave crime’ of women following their authentic vocations to ordained ministry,” writes Kate McElwee of, New Women, New Church, a publication of Women’s Ordination Conference.
It should be remembered that by not correcting this error of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, Francis is affirming that he believes too that the action of women following their God-given calls to priesthood is analogous to the grave crime of sexual abuse of children by male priests! Francis, it seems, struggles between his “head and “heart” statements to the detriment of the Church. There are day-to-day, random examples of his reaching out to the LGBTQ community and to women (heart) and when it comes to the official statement, he falls back on his “head” failing to do much that could be considered, “loving.”
All the readings today speak to the need, as followers of our brother, Jesus, to get beyond the world of material things, what brings comfort and doesn’t overly, bother us—the status quo, as spoken of earlier.
That having been said, it is important to say as well that, “the comfort” that material things bring is not bad in itself, as long as we keep a balance. I believe this was the caution that Jesus was trying to lay out for the apostles, and ultimately, for us—when he spoke of how hard it is for the rich to enter the kin-dom. Because friends, the desire for more and more is a powerful deterrent for doing less and less for those in need.
This reminds me of a song made popular back in 1970 by country singer, Lynn Anderson, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.” When first hearing this title, it would appear that the singer considers a “rose garden” a happy place to be, with no troubles, such as, when we speak of, “a bed of roses.” But, in reality, we know that all rose bushes come with thorns. It strikes me that this might be a good way to view our God-given lives—the beauty and joy of “roses,” showing themselves in people and all of created life—yes, but the “thorns” of injustice, disagreement and more, that come along the way too, that we have to grapple with.
Wisdom calls us to this reality and much more. We are here to enjoy our human existence, but to share it as well. Jesus, it seems, did promise us a “rose garden.”