Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Wis 2:12, 17-20; Jas 3:16-4:3; Mk 9:30-37
The Scriptures we are given to hear this Sunday reflect on wisdom. What do we understand by "wisdom"? Who is rightly called a "wise" person? What is there about a person that makes that person "wise"? What "wisdom figures" come to mind from history, in family, in church, among co-workers, among friends?
In the third chapter of the Book of Kings, when Solomon became King of Israel, God asked what gift Solomon would ask for. Solomon simply asked God for an understanding heart, to discern what was right - that is, the gift of wisdom. God was pleased and Solomon received that gift. A little later in the chapter, we hear that God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and largeness of mind like the sand on the seashore. Alas, such a gift is not always received nor respected in the context of one's culture; those who have received and live with the gift of wisdom may even be targeted and attacked by others who feel threatened by it.
Indeed, the first reading from the book of Wisdom begins with the wicked planning of just such an attack. The just person, characterized by gentleness and patience is tested, persecuted, and even killed by the self-confident wicked.
It seems that the second reading from James picks up on the same theme:jealousy and selfish ambition fuel disorder and every foul practice. The Wisdom Literature often contrasts wisdom with foolishness, and James does the same. In contrast to jealousy and selfish ambition is the wise one who is pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. Furthermore, the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.
(This is an aside, a personal commentary: I am with the CTU Bible Study and Travel Program in Israel as I write this reflection. It seems that there is foolishness here in the clamoring for and exercise of power. To the detriment of all, power is seen in oppression and violence. There has been no good answer, no real wisdom to establish peace. Still, may all here cling to the call to cultivate peace. This is true wisdom.)
Finally, Mark's Gospel for today portrays Jesus, the wisdom teacher. Jesus was teaching that he himself would meet a tragic end. This, of course, is just as the book of Wisdom foretold about the wise. The disciples did not understand, and Jesus continues to teach them the wisdom of the servant leader: in the reign of God, the one who wishes to be first will be last of all and servant of all. AH! The wisdom saying is that greatness lies in service. Jesus illustrates this teaching with the example of the child. There are endless commentaries that speak of the qualities of being child-like, and these are all good and worthy. However, I suspect that the wisdom of the child is that the child allows the embrace of Jesus: "putting his arms around the child. . ." Solomon, the King, had also allowed for and accepted the gift of the wisdom of God.
Like the child in the Gospel, like Solomon in the Book of Kings, perhaps the greatest wisdom is to receive the gifts God offers, especially God's love and care, and then to offer the gift of love and care in service to all others, our brothers and sisters, "the dear neighbor." Perhaps the initial reflection of this commentary surfaced this very quality in those recognized as wise ones.
Sallie Latkovich, CSJ
Director of Bible Study and Travel, Director of the Summer Institute, and Adjunct Professor
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