Dcn Les Ruhrmund
The Book of Wisdom is a splendidly written poem designed to stir up love for the ways of God. It was written about fifty years before the coming of Christ at a time when the Jewish people were experiencing suffering and oppression; in part at least at the hands of their own leaders. Judging by the wide and rich vocabulary and the sophisticated structure of the language used, we can conclude that the author was well educated (probably in Alexandria, Egypt) and he cleverly weds his Greek education to his Hebrew heritage. Echoes of the Book of Wisdom are plentiful in some of the NT books, particularly in John and the writings of Paul.
In the extract we heard in the first reading, the author personifies and speaks in the words of what he calls “ungodly people” who challenge and mock the goodness and authority of God. It’s not difficult to see the Passion of Jesus in some of these words: “Let us test him with insult and torture that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”
In the verses that follow which are not included in today’s reading, the author tells us that these evil people are quite wrong; they are blinded by their wickedness and have chosen eternal death while those who are faithful to God will enjoy eternal life.
The letter of St James from which the second reading is taken is not really a letter in our conventional understanding of letter writing but falls rather into the genre of wisdom literature in the vein of the first reading.
“Wisdom” for James is not academic knowledge or brilliant intellectual argument but rather the traditional Jewish notion of correct and moral behaviour. There are no part-time Christians in James’s vision of Church. If we take our discipleship seriously then everything we do must be guided and motivated by that wisdom which “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good works.”
James tells us that the root of sin and evil is within our hearts and that as long as there is jealousy and selfish ambition, the world will be a place of turmoil and depraved behaviour. He goes on to say that when we pray and don’t get what we want it’s because we have prayed for the wrong things. We have prayed to satisfy our own desires rather than prayed for the wisdom to do the will of God.
I’ve recently read a book that I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend called “Where the hell is God?” written by an Australian Jesuit, Richard Leonard, in which, in one of the chapters, he writes about the way in which we pray. In a nutshell he reminds us that in our prayers God doesn’t need guidance from us in what to do as God; he doesn’t need us telling him how to solve the problems of the world; God is not going to manipulate the weather to suit our social arrangements. Quoting him “God is spent in loving us and saving us at every moment of the day. He cannot do more. It is up to us to respond to this unearned and unmerited gift, and that’s what prayer does. It invites his amazing grace to change, form, fashion, heal and inspire us; asking God to change us, so that we might more reflect his loving face and thereby transform the world.”
Our world is in a mess; a mess of our own making and God isn’t going to wave a magic wand and fix it. Only we can fix it and only with God’s grace. We willingly choose to nurture harmony, peace, love, tolerance and compassion or we choose to cultivate a world of division, greed, hatred and violence.
In the Gospel reading we find Jesus with his disciples starting his final journey to Jerusalem and he tells them that he is going to be killed there. Mark writes that they didn’t understand what he said and where afraid to ask him. That perhaps comes as a surprise to us; was it really that difficult to understand? But are we not similar in often rejecting what we don’t want to hear; or are afraid to ask or accept? We have all heard the Christian message of salvation over and over again. We know the glory of accepting it and the tragedy of rejecting it – and yet? Are we not inclined to accept the bits we like and reject or ignore the parts we don’t like?
The disciples at this stage were clueless. They had no idea what Jesus was talking about and were arguing amongst themselves about which of them was the greatest. This in itself would not have been that unusual in their society which placed great value on status and honour. The point is that they were still thinking in terms of Jesus as an earthly ruler with them as his senior officials.
What Jesus did next would have come as a profound shock to the disciples. In their society, children had absolutely no status; they were “non–persons”. If, for example, there was a shortage of food in the house, the adults ate while the children went hungry. There was nothing to be gained in status or honour from kindness to a child.
Jesus took a child into his arms and tells them that if they want greatness then they must open their hearts to those who like the children are helpless, vulnerable and dependent on the charity of others. They must be prepared to serve those have no status; those who can offer no reward or esteem; those who are unable to return the favour.
Have not some of us at some time in our lives prayed for success or promotion or respect and recognition; prayed for status and honour?
We should pray rather that through our successes and failures, using our God given gifts and talents, we can take to heart the wisdom of God; believe the message of salvation with the simplicity of a child. That through our prayer, we will transform our lives that we can be the face of Jesus on earth and bring about a better world; a world that more resembles heaven than it does hell.