It’s the last week before Lent, and we’re reading about wisdom in the book of Sirach.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines wisdom as a spiritual gift which enables us to know the purpose and plan of God — the purpose, so we can know God’s goal, and the plan, so we can know how He gets there. In the Old Testament, especially in Sirach, wisdom is treated as a person. In a beautiful foreshadowing, that person has the characteristics of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Most of us know people who are wise. They see all dimensions of a problem. They know the right order in which to handle those dimensions and the right way to approach each of them. Jesus is a perfect example, and the Gospel readings for the week show some of the ways He demonstrated wisdom.
For example, when He first chose to tell the disciples that He was going to suffer, He didn’t tell them in Jewish territory in the midst of busy days of ministry. He took them away from the crowds. He provided the time and the place that would best help them to hear and digest this news. That was wisdom.
Jesus also knew what example or image would most help an audience grasp His point. So, when the apostles were arguing about who was the greatest, He placed a child in their midst to teach them about being small and dependent, and said: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”
The concept of wisdom can also help us solve the apparent contradiction between Mark 9:40, which we hear this week — “Whoever is not against us is for us” and Matthew 12:30 “Whoever is not with me is against me.” How can both of these be true?
If you understand that the moral quality of an action is determined by its object, intention and circumstances, it becomes obvious: The same object, with different intentions or under different circumstances, can have a different moral status. So Jesus says in Mark: “At this stage of my ministry, under these circumstances, whoever is not against us is for us.” And in Matthew, He says: “At that stage, under those circumstances, whoever is not with me is against me.” Once again, that’s wisdom. Jesus sees all the dimensions of the situation — object, intention and circumstance — and responds accordingly.
As Lent approaches, ask yourself: 1) Of all the things in my life that could be addressed during Lent for my growth in faith, what’s the first thing to focus on? 2) And of the many ways that I might address that issue — for example, giving things up or adding spiritual disciplines to my life — what’s the best way to address it?
Wisdom is not only a beautiful biblical theme, it can help us prepare for the coming season of Lent. Let’s not miss the opportunity.