Gospel reflection for Nov. 12, 2023: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
There are many virtues and practices that define the Christian life. We know that love of God and love of neighbor are important. We also know we need to exercise that love by acts of charity: feed the poor, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger. The Christian life is also defined by faith — placing trust in the promise of the covenant and the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Yet, there seems to be another virtue, one that is also a Gift of the Holy Spirit called Wisdom. In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins Jesus emphasizes wisdom as a fundamental virtue of the Kingdom.
Wisdom was revered by the ancients. The Greek deity Athena exemplified wisdom. The Hebrew Scriptures have a set of writings which are known as Wisdom literature. The First Reading in today’s Liturgy is from the Book of Wisdom, written shortly before the Birth of Jesus. Thai work, too, personifies wisdom in ways that are understood as foreshadowing the Gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The great king of Israel and Judah, Solomon, is regarded as the very pillar of wisdom throughout the Bible.
Yet, in some ways, a definition of wisdom seems illusive. Many associate wisdom with prudence in judgment. This could be said of Solomon. He was a brilliant judge and had keen insight into human nature and the ways of the world. Yet, this wisdom did not penetrate his personal life, and he is ultimately responsible for the policies that forever divided the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
Many cultures associate wisdom with the elderly. And while we would expect that their life experiences should have taught them many valuable lessons to pass-on to future generations, we know that the elderly have as much a chance of being foolish as do the young.
Others associate wisdom with intelligence or education. While it is not uncommon for there to be a correlation between the two, this is also often not the case. Intelligence can be deceptive.
This stained glass image of the Gift of Wisdom in Corpus Christi Church, Willingboro, is reflective of Father Garry Koch's insight on the Gospel for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.
There are professional purveyors of wisdom. We seek the counsel of priests or religious, professional counselors, or teachers and mentors. Just because one is trained to offer advice, does not guarantee wise counsel, and often can cause more confusion or even harm than good.
Then the irony is that it is not uncommon to see wisdom in the young, the not well-educated, or those not regarded as especially intelligent. Some people have flashes of wisdom or insight -- others seem to exude wisdom and people seek their advice and counsel.
So, what does Jesus mean by wisdom? What becomes the point of his parable on the wise virgins and the imprudent ones?
Wisdom in the sense of how Jesus uses the term, and in subsequent Christian writing, always carries the connotation of discerning the mind of God. In his Summa Contra Gentiles (1) St. Thomas Aquinas makes the following observations on Wisdom: “Among all human pursuits, the pursuit of wisdom is more perfect, more noble, more useful, and more full of joy. It is more perfect because, in so far as a man gives himself to the pursuit of wisdom, so far does he even now have some share in true beatitude. And so a wise man (Sirach) has said: ‘Blessed is the man that shall continue in wisdom.’ It is more noble because through this pursuit man especially approaches to a likeness to God Who ‘made all things in wisdom (Ps. 103:24). And since likeness is the cause of love, the pursuit of wisdom especially joins man to God in friendship. That is why it is said of wisdom that ‘she is an infinite treasure to men! which they that use become the friends of God (Wis. 7:14)’”
As Christians not only ought we pursue wisdom through our reading and discernment, but a daily prayer for wisdom -- to know God’s mind -- should be at the forefront of how we seek union with God.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.