October 10, 2015

Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 11, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, Hofmann,
1889
(Click here for today’s readings)

The answer is: A quiz show in which three well-read persons with excellent memories and reasonably good reflexes compete to win the most money.

The correct question is: What is Jeopardy! ?

Because they know and remember a lot of stuff, the contestants are considered really smart. They usually appear to be intelligent as well, which is not necessarily the same thing.

They are clever. But, are they wise? They may well be, but this is not a requirement; in fact, since wisdom implies a capacity to ponder, it could even be a disadvantage, when rapid recall is of the essence.

Which is better—to be well-read and clever (and maybe win lots of money), or to be wise? Today’s readings leave us in no doubt. Wisdom comes first; the rest may or may not follow.

Where is wisdom to be found? Our spontaneous, common-sense response would be: “from experience, of course.” That is why wisdom is most often associated with age. This is certainly not excluded in Scripture, but is not necessary either. Solomon was not old when he became king, but his wisdom was the stuff of legend.

One of the most well known biblical sayings on the subject is: “The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord,” where “fear” means the deepest possible respect for God’s authority. One of the Psalms expresses it in these terms:
How I love your law, Lord!
I study it all day long.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my foes,
as it is forever with me.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
because I ponder your testimonies. (Psalm 119:97-99, 104)
The rich man of today’s Gospel had that kind of wisdom. He loved God’s law and was faithful to all the commandments, but he wanted more. Jesus agreed with him. More than that, we read that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Moved by that love he offered him a deeper wisdom, one that did not lead to “countless riches” but, seemingly, in the exact opposite direction. Jesus offered himself as the only wealth the young man needed. At that point the rich man’s wisdom failed him. He failed to see that Jesus, whom he called “good teacher,” was the fulfillment of the law, the real “countless riches.”

We are bombarded by different visions and theories all claiming to have authentic wisdom. Capitalism vs. communism (and everything in between), liberals vs. conservatives, and so it goes.

For Christians the source of wisdom is the Word of God, in two senses. It is the Word of God recorded in the Scriptures,” living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword,” as we heard in the Letter to the Hebrews. And it is also the Word of God that became flesh in Jesus Christ.

Christian wisdom is not primarily a matter of memorizing the Scriptures, helpful though that may be. It is not chiefly a matter of pondering this or that Bible verse or story, though such meditation can certainly help deepen our understanding of our faith and our relationship with Christ.

One of the most brilliant minds in the history of the Church was St. Thomas Aquinas, born 790 years ago. He dedicated his life to creating a complete synthesis of Catholic philosophy and theology. But when he was 48 years old, he stopped writing. When asked why, he answered: “The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.”

What had happened was this. On the feast of St. Nicholas (December 6) he had a vision of Christ, who said to him, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labor?” Thomas answered, “Nothing but you, Lord.” Jesus gave him what he asked, and Thomas seems to have recognized how infinitely superior this new wisdom was to anything he had ever known. Three months later he passed into eternal life.

Few of us are called to make the kind of radical choice the Apostles made by giving up everything to follow Jesus, that the rich man refused to make, and that Thomas Aquinas made without hesitation. But we are all of us called to cultivate Christian wisdom, a kind of Christian instinct, absorbed more than learned. Where that will lead, who knows?

Final Jeopardy answer: The best way to learn Christian wisdom.
Correct question: What is constant and close contact with the “good teacher”?

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