Homily: Love of Wisdom


The word “Philosophy” comes from two Greek words. “Philios” or “Philia” means “loving, fond of, tending to.” “Sophia” means “wisdom.” Philosophia, or Philosophy, literally means, the “love of wisdom.” The wisdom literature in the bible, we could say, also speaks of the “wisdom of love.” The Wisdom books in the bible personify Philosophia as “Lady Wisdom,” who man should pursue and court as a lover, as the way to living the virtuous life. Our first reading says, “I… deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand… Yet all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands.”

The Book of Wisdom, or Book of the Wisdom of Solomon, was originally written in Greek in the Jewish diaspora, the Jews living in the context of the greater Greek culture. Because it did not belong to the Hebrew Pharasaic canon, it was excluded from the Jerusalem canon of the holy scriptures, and thus also from Martin Luther’s version of the Old Testament. But the Book of Wisdom, and the other Old Testament books of Greek origin, were well-known to the Christians outside of Israel, and were well-quoted by the Church Fathers.

In the Incarnation of the Son of God—the perfect self-expression of God—the divine Word of the Father—many aspects of biblical wisdom (of biblical philosophy) are met in the person of Jesus. Our second reading easily substitutes the Wisdom of God with the Word of God: “Indeed the Word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” God’s wisdom penetrates deep below the appearances, the flesh, the temporal order, and penetrates into the spirit, the true person, the heart and soul. “Everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.” And Jesus in the Gospel says the same thing as Lady Wisdom in the Old Testament: beware of the temporal trap of appearances and wealth; seek instead the way of wisdom and holiness.

Jesus and his disciples were walking and “a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’” Skeptics often point to this verse, Mark 10:18, to say Jesus himself here denies he is God. But it’s bad biblical interpretation to take one verse out of context and use it as a proof-text. If you look at the verse in context, Jesus is speaking to a man who is bowed, face-down at his feet—an act of worship—who just called him good—an attribute of the one true God of Israel. What does Jesus then do? He gives the man the law of God—actually, the second tablet of the law, having to do with love of others. And then what does Jesus do? He adds a particular commandment for this man, and by analogy, for us. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’” Jesus is not denying that he is good, he is saying that he is good. So if Jesus is good, and only God alone is good… then… Jesus is acknowledging that he is God, that he is divine. He’s trying to help this man unpack the faith he already demonstrates by his act of worship.

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Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Jesus emblepsas him… beheld him, considered him, gazed at him with special concern… and ēgapēsen him… loved him with agape, self-giving, selfless love. “At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” God does not hate sinners; God can only love. God loves those who walk away from him, who persecute him, who reject him. He is always calling everyone into a deeper participation in his own divine life, whether a person is a politician on the world stage, or a Sister of Mercy ministering to the needy in the streets, or a convicted murderer on death row, or a suburban parent trying to take care of his or her family. All are called to conversion, to repentance, to divine love, and all have the choice between surrendering themselves more to God’s love in their life, or to go away sad, unwilling to surrender the many things they are concerned about for the sake of the one thing necessary.

Three times in this year’s readings, Jesus says something bold, which people question, and then he affirms his teaching with stronger words. In John 6, Jesus was teaching about eating and drinking his flesh and blood. The Pharisees murmured against him. And Jesus then said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” Last week, Jesus was teaching that marriage is until death. “In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’” In today’s reading, “Jesus… said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’”

Before I go into Jesus’ strong words today, I want to go back and revisit Jesus’ strong words from last week.

I spoke last week about the Theology of the Body—that each person is body and soul united, and that man and woman together in the nuptial consummation, the complementarity of their bodily personhood, is a share in (and revelation of) the self-giving love of the inner life of God. I was told that while the Theology of the Body was appreciated, that I should have said something to comfort the divorced.

Image result for chesterton i don't need a churchWe do want to be comforted… we also want approval for all the choices we make that we see as good, that God call them good, too. Because that’s God’s job—to approve of what we approve of, and condemn what we condemn. Well, not really, no. Our job is to approve of what God approves of, and to condemn what God condemns. Jesus says that divorce-and-remarriage is adultery, and I am not going to correct Jesus.

But I concede the point that I knew that there were many in the congregation who were divorced, and I missed the opportunity to help them interpret their experience in light of Jesus’ words of Truth. The truth is that I presumed that everyone already knew that divorce is contrary to the Catholic Faith, that marriage is until death, and that annulments are possible for those who can prove that their marriage was sacramentally invalid. And so rather than harp on that point for another year, my choice was, instead of making the divorced feel bad, I wanted to point forward to the beauty of God’s truth of marriage, to build up those who are already married, and inspire those who look forward to marriage. So here is the bit about annulments that I elected to forsake last week to allow time to present the splendor of the Theology of the Body.

Marriage is a public event in the Christian community, not a clandestine arrangement made in secret. Catholics must be married in view of the community of the Church, which validates that the couple is potentially able to enter into marriage, prepares them to live out their marriage promises, and publicly blesses their marriage promises with sacramental grace. So when two people promise before God and the Christian community that they are uniting until death do they part, come what may, it is not God’s plan that they divorce. Like all Christian life, marriage is the call to be selfless, humble, forgiving, and holy. It’s the cross. It demands unconditional commitment. We are not promised a happy life; we are promised the paradoxical joy of the cross, which, if persevered through, will lead us to salvation. That’s why you promise to be faithful: because there’s a lot of times and situations tempting married couples to give up.

Now, the exception. First, no one has an obligation to be a punching bag, physically or emotionally. The Church tells spouses who are being abused to separate to safety. Separation is fine—as long as separation is oriented toward healing and reconciliation, if possible. The second exception rests on Jesus’ words, “What God has joined together,” and the exception in Matthew’s gospel, which is, “unless the marriage is unlawful/sinful.” God joins together those who worthily exchange their promises of life-long fidelity (remember… the effective reception of a sacrament requires the “necessary disposition” to receive it). But… if, at the time of that exchange of promises, one or both of the persons are too emotionally or spiritually immature; if they lack the intention or ability to make and keep their promises; or due to other obstacles to the sacrament of marriage, then one or the other can take their exchange of promises to the Church to say that God did not join this union together. And if the Church agrees, the couple is given a declaration of nullity (an annulment). But this is not divorce. Divorce says that a contract of marriage existed for a time, and then ended. An annulment says that the covenant of marriage had never been formed, and the persons were not (and are not) sacramentally married. God does not will divorce—he says “Let your yes be yes.” But God’s plan accommodates human sinfulness and weakness, and He can and does bring good out of it. I know of many good marriages that abound with free, total, faithful, and fruitful love, which followed after earlier failed marriages that had been annulled.

So that’s the second ending of last week’s homily. Just a few sentences to finish up this week’s homily. A few weeks ago, the second reading from Saint James said, “Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries…you have stored up treasure for the last days.” That’s the key to the biblical teaching on wealth… not that it is intrinsically evil or in opposition to the Christian life, but the sin of trusting that one’s wealth will matter on judgment day. Jesus, and his Church, have relied on the generosity of the faithful who have wealth. It is not a sin to be wealthy. camelgateBut one must also answer on judgment day for their Christian use of their wealth.

St. Augustine in the 5th century tells of a tradition that there was a small door next to the main city gate of Jerusalem called the “Eye of the Needle.” A camel was too large to enter, especially carrying a load, unless the camel was first unburdened, and then passed through the gate kneeling. A rich person cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven unless he strips himself of the burden of his wealth, and humbles himself on his knees. The rich person investing his wealth in the needs of the Christian community, humbling himself to enter the gate, understands the spiritual dangers that comfort and reliance on wealth fosters. St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and a trap…The love of money is the root of all evil. Some men in their passion for it have strayed from the faith, and have come to grief amid great pain.” It is King Solomon, clothed in royal splendor, who wrote, “I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her.” It is not the love of money, nor even the love of wisdom, but the wisdom of love, that leads us to salvation.

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