Wisdom is costly. It requires the gift of our whole self. In the Book of…
Opening the Word: The wisdom of God
“Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?” (Wis 9:13).
This question opens our readings for this Sunday. It comes from the Book of Wisdom, which is part of a smaller set of writings in Scripture called “Wisdom Literature,” which is beautiful, instructive and poetic.
Wisdom Literature is all of these things because it tries to show us how to live according to God’s transcendent wisdom rather than our own (which the Book of Wisdom describes as scarcely guessing!). God’s wisdom is beyond our own, transcending our reason. Thus, Wisdom Literature uses poetry to speak about God’s wisdom, employing language that reaches beyond itself, and beyond us, toward God.
|September 4 – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time|
The opening question of our readings reminds us of this transcendent fact: Who can know God’s counsel or conceive what he intends? Only those to whom God has revealed his counsel or his intentions.
Think about it this way: Who would have imagined an order to all things, put in place by God, in which God himself would be crucified?
Perhaps, then, our reading from the Book of Wisdom is just the framework we need when trying to understand this week’s Gospel reading from Luke, where Christ gives some unexpected instruction for being his disciples, calling us to hate our “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters … even [your] own life,” as well as to “renounce all [your] possessions,” and come “carry [your] own cross” (Lk 14:25-26).
These words, too, are instructions for living according to God’s wisdom — the wisdom that ordered all things according to his own sacrificial love.
And so to renounce all your possessions, to hate your family and to carry your cross is to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, all of your soul, and all of your mind … and your neighbor as yourself. We are not asked to literally hate anyone, but to love with a love that transcends any kind of love that we already know, be it even the love of a father or mother, a spouse or a child. Perhaps we can imagine an order to things in which we lay down our life for our father or mother, our spouse or our child. But can we imagine laying down our lives for God?
My guess is that we can, because we do, though we could always do so with greater renunciation — that is, with a greater love for the life that God reveals to us, rather than the one we imagine for ourselves, which scarcely guesses at the joys brought by God’s intentions for us.
And so the best of the words from Scripture that we can carry with us from Mass on Sunday are simply those of the Gospel acclamation: “Alleluia, alleluia. Let your face shine upon your servant; and teach me your laws” (Ps 119:135). With these words, before we hear the Gospel revealed to us during the Mass, we are reminded to listen for God’s intentions, to seek to understand his counsel, and so to open ourselves to his life rather than merely the one of our own devising. Teach me! Reveal the Gospel to me. More and more.
Thus, always attentive to God and his wisdom, we will live the responsorial psalm, asking God each day that we may gain wisdom of heart and that he might “fill us at daybreak with [his] kindness.” In laying our lives down in this way, we just might “shout for joy and gladness all our days,” because “the gracious care of the Lord our God [will] be ours.” He (not we!) will “prosper the work of our hands” for us (Ps 90), and he will do so in ways unimaginable to us until he who is the Gospel itself reveals God’s intentions and teaches us his law of love.
Catherine Cavadini, Ph.D., is the assistant chair of the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Theology and director of its master’s program in theology.