Wisdom 2:12.17-20, Ps. 54, James 3:16-4:3, Mk. 9:30-37
Fr Galadima Bitrus, (OSA)
THE MEASURE OF GODLY vs EARTHLY WISDOM
Being wise, that quality of making good judgement based on experience or knowledge, is certainly a desirable thing. But like everything good, wisdom can be put to good use or bad use (misuse or abuse). The readings today show us both the misuse and the right use of wisdom.
The 1st Reading (Wisdom 2:12.17-20) comes from the discourse usually considered “the reasoning of the wicked” in chapter two of the book of wisdom. The section 2:10-20, from which our first reading is taken, is the wicked man’s plot against the righteous man. We are given an insight into how the wicked feel about the very existence of the righteous: “He is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law and accuses us of sins against our training” (2:12).
In other words, the crime of the righteous towards the wicked is the fact of making them feel uncomfortable when they break the law and go against basic norms of decency and education. The wicked then plot to put the righteousness of the righteous to test, through torture and insults, and even death, to see if the Lord will save them and if they will maintain their calm and gentleness, or will be provoked to reactionary arrogance, which is the poison of good works.
These words of the wicked call to mind the strategy of the adversary (Satan) in his effort to discredit Job’s record of righteousness, employing torture, sickness and destruction of his possessions and family with the aim of pushing Job to reactionary despair and abandonment of the way of righteousness (cf. Job 1-2).
The words of the wicked, “For if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries” (2:18) are also echoed in the temptation of Jesus where the tempter (the devil) says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge over you and on their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone’” (Mt 4:6; cf. Ps 91:11-12).
Thus, we learn that sometimes, the suffering or persecution we face can be a temptation or trial put in our way by the adversary who does not believe that a righteous person owes his/her righteousness not to a utilitarian idea of God but to a genuine relationship.
If we find ourselves in the position where insults or torture or even instruments of death are employed to discredit our relationship with God, may we learn not to waver in our trust in God’s power to save his children. And if our strength or good deed is being tested, may we not allow it to be poisoned by arrogance or pride but have the grace to keep doing our good while at the same time keeping our cool.
This clearly requires the kind of wisdom that comes from above, not merely our human sound judgment which often leads us to either give up on the unprofitable good or try to prove the power or influence we possess.
The 2nd Reading (James 3:16-4:3) develops the theme of wisdom which the author admonishes his audience to pray for at the beginning of the letter. As we read in 1:5: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.”
The author contrasts two kinds of wisdom: earthly wisdom and wisdom from above. He begins by calling on the wise and understanding to show wisdom by doing the good they do with humility, knowing that pride can poison even good works. As St. Augustine once noted, “Indeed, every other kind of sin has to do with the commission of evil deeds, whereas pride lurks even in good works in order to destroy them” (Rule of St. Augustine, 8). Thus, to act with wisdom is not just to do good, but to do good with humility.
After this brief invitation, the discourse on earthly wisdom begins the passage proper (3:13-16) and concludes it (4:1-3), thus framing the discourse on wisdom from above (3:17-18). Earthly wisdom is defined by bitter envy and selfish ambition, boastfulness and insincerity (3:14), and it is characterized as unspiritual and devilish (3:15).
This kind of wisdom, according to the author, gives rise to disorder and wickedness of every kind (3:16), including murder which comes as a result of our wanting something and not getting it, as well as disputes and conflicts, which arise when we crave for something or covet it but cannot obtain it, either because we have not asked for it or we have asked for it wrongly, that is, merely to satisfy our desires or pleasures (4:1-3).
Heavenly wisdom, on the other hand, is defined as pure, peaceable, gentle, without partiality and hypocrisy. This kind of wisdom yields good fruits full of mercy and a harvest of righteousness sown in peace (3:17-18). Therefore, St. James challenges us to prioritize peace, even above right. For it is not enough to do good, it is necessary to do good with humility: that is wisdom from above, which clearly contrasts and challenges our earthly wisdom.
In this light, our actions, no matter how good or right they may be, if they do not favour a climate of peace and a sense of impartiality and sincerity of purpose, but rather engender disorder, disputes and conflicts, and a sense of wickedness and insincerity, then, such actions are not consistent with wisdom from above; they may just be an indication that we are operating with a self-serving earthly wisdom, for which we need to rethink and repurpose by re-aligning our actions to the logic of heavenly wisdom which invites us to rise beyond just doing good to doing good with humility!
The Gospel (Mark 9:30-37) presents the second announcement that Jesus makes in Mark’s gospel concerning his impending passion and eventual resurrection. The first announcement was met with resistance on the part of his disciples, whom he accused of failing to rise beyond human logic which considers suffering as a curse, thus insisting on teaching them the logic of the cross, the logic of dying to self as a necessary path to truly finding oneself. For unless we experience the resurrection, we cannot truly be said to possess true life, but the resurrection, as we know, comes by the way of the cross and death (cf. Mk 8:27-38).
It would seem the disciples did not fully take to heart the first passion-resurrection announcement and its eventual elaboration in the Christian discipleship lecture that followed (cf. 8:31-38), a situation that may have necessitated this second announcement in 9:30-37, which the evangelist informs us they did not still understand and were afraid to ask Jesus about (9:32), perhaps in light of Peter’s experience of being rebuked in the harshest terms, as an adversary (Satan), for trying to caution Jesus from making the unsavoury prediction that he was going to be rejected and killed, though will rise again (cf. 8:33).
So, the disciples basically ignored Jesus and got busy debating something they found more palatable, namely, who among them was the greatest, something they seemed to have been also afraid or ashamed to tell Jesus about, since when asked, they all kept silent (cf. 9:33-34). At this, Jesus gathered them again for a discipleship 301 lecture: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (9:35).
And as if to demonstrate the principle he had just taught them, Jesus took a child and said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me, but him who sent me” (9:36-37).
Thus, humility, service and attention for the little, the fragile and the most vulnerable are shown to be indispensable rudiments of Christian discipleship and of being a leader (a first among equals) after Christ’s heart.
Many other attributes can be found advocated in books or by motivational speakers that talk about laws of power, but as their subject matter implies, they are “laws of power” not leadership qualities and certainly, not Christian nor Christ-like leadership qualities.
As such, they may not be consistent with the wisdom that comes from above which the apostle James defines as pure, peaceable, gentle, without partiality and hypocrisy, and prioritizing the good fruits of the fullness of mercy and the harvest of righteousness sown in peace (3:17-18), but may capture the self-serving human wisdom that often leaves in its wake disorder, disputes, conflicts, domination and a sense of insincerity and suspicion.
Lord, that we may find fulfillment in humble service, not in domination! Lord, that we may be guided by the wisdom that comes from above where you live and reign forever!
Fr. Ephraim Itaman
1. We give all thanks and praise to God for the gift of today.
2. In the first reading we are presented the reality of enemy as children of God. Our decision to a child of God sets us as light against darkness; evil against good; godliness against ungodliness.
3. In the first reading, the wicked said: ‘Let us wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our action, he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins of our training. The wicked continues: ‘Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life.’
4. For if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him and deliver him from the hand of his adversaries (Prov. 2:18).
5. Hebrews 13:6-I have God as my helper I will not be afraid; Psalm 124:8-Our help is in the name of the Lord.
6. St. James in the second reading warns us against jealousy and selfish ambition. Rather he says we should be people of ‘pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits.
7. He says: ‘You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.’
8. To ask or pray well is to pray with faith and patience.
9. Mt. 21:22-And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive
10. John 14:13-Whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
11. In the gospel reading, Jesus narrates about his impending suffering and death and ultimately, he will rise again.
12. Jesus suffered; we may also have to suffer; but Jesus overcame; we shall overcome.
ACT OF SPIRITUAL COMMUNION
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love you above all things and I desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot receive you sacramentally now, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself to you. Never permit me to be separated from you Amen.