31st Sunday Ordinary Time – The Lover of Our Souls

October Baptisms

Wisdom of Solomon 11:22–12:2
Nov. 3, 2019
Celebration of Feast of St. Charles Borromeo

The Book of Wisdom, often called the Wisdom of Solomon, is very similar to the writing of Ben Sirach whom we read last week. Both taught the sons of rich Jewish families and based their teachings firmly in traditional Judaism. Ben Sirach wrote in Jerusalem around 200 BC at a time immediately before active persecution. He was primarily concerned with practical questions of contemporary life. Despite its attribution to Solomon, the Book of Wisdom might very well be the last written book of the Old Testament. It was most likely composed in Alexandria Egypt, perhaps as late as 30 BC. Alexandria was a great intellectual center in the Roman world and the author examined the philosophical teachings of the day. He also used to his advantage the relationship between the Egyptians and the Jews.

The Exodus is never far from the author’s mind. He returns in today’s chapter to the plagues sent upon Egyptian. For all their power, the Egyptians were foolish, because they worshiped the animal, indeed, insect world:

And in return for their senseless, wicked thoughts,
which misled them into worshiping dumb serpents and worthless
insects, You sent upon them swarms of dumb creatures for vengeance;
that they might recognize that a man is punished by the very
things through which he sins
(Wisdom 11:15–16)

These plagues hurt but did not kill. Although he could have sent dangerous animals or even, like modern movie makers, could have designed some power from hell, He did not:

For not without means was your almighty hand,
that had fashioned the universe from formless matter,
to send upon them a drove of bears or fierce lions,
Or new-created, wrathful, unknown beasts
to breathe forth fiery breath,
Or pour out roaring smoke,
or flash terrible sparks from their eyes.
These could these attack and completely destroy them;
But you have disposed all things by measure and number and weight.

(Wis. 11:17–20)

“Measure, Number and Weight” is a quote from Plato’s Laws. The author shows that the Jews, like the best Greek thinkers, seek a world governed by order and moderation. The author, however, demonstrates that Jews have a superior claim to philosophical integrity. Note above, he has written that God had fashioned the universe from formless matter. Creation is also never far from his mind but with a twist:

For he fashioned all things that they might have being;
and the creatures of the world are wholesome,
And there is not a destructive drug among them
nor any domain of the nether world on earth,
For justice is undying.
It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death,
considered it a friend, and pined for it,
and made a covenant with it,
Because they deserve to be in its possession,
(Wis. 1:14–16)

Most ancient peoples did not believe in a creation that resembled ours in any way. Their “creation” myths do not presume a loving God who brought life into existence, indeed often did not even presume that the world or humanity was even intentionally formed.

Wisdom more than suggests but claims that the God who revealed Himself to Israel is able to provide the security and harmony which the traditional philosophies of the day could only promise but could rarely deliver and then only to the rich. The author will not only quote other writings in what we now call the Old Testament but will, as we have seen above, call attention to the LORD’S guidance of his people throughout history, most clearly in the Exodus.

In the section we read today, beginning with verse 22, we see that the LORD is more powerful than we can imagine but cares about each and every one of us.

For with you great strength abides always;
who can resist the might of your arm?
Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent.
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?

(Wis. 11:21–25)

The Book of Wisdom is one of the most optimistic writings of the Old Testament. The general theological importance of this is beautifully expressed by Bishop Barron in his homily for this week which may be found at https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/homily/the-love-of-predilection/25727/)

We will look at two specific examples.

  1. Time Is on Our Side

But you spare all things, because they
are yours, O LORD and lover of souls,
But you spare all things, because they
are yours, O LORD and lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things!
Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little,
warn them, and remind them of the sins they are committing,
that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD.
(Wis. 11:26–12:2)

Because the LORD made us in love and his “imperishable spirit” is in us and indeed in the whole world, the LORD is the lover of our souls and His mercy is shown by offering us constant opportunities for repentance.

  1. God’s Love Is for All

Many popular movements in ancient Judaism, like the Pharisees and the Essenes, emphasized those things which separated people from each other. The word Pharisee means separated one. Yet we saw above that the LORD sought to discipline the Egyptians, the oppressors of his chosen people, slowly if not painlessly. This is true also of the Canaanites, the original inhabitants of the promised land. In the section which follows what we read today:

For truly, the ancient inhabitants of your holy land,
whom you hated for deeds most odious—
Works of witchcraft and impious sacrifices;
a cannibal feast of human flesh and of blood,
But even these, as they were men, you spared,
and sent wasps as forerunners of your army
that they might exterminate them by degrees.
Not that you were without power to have the wicked vanquished
in battle by the just, or wiped out
at once by terrible beasts or by one decisive word;
But condemning them bit by bit,
you gave them space for repentance.
(Wis. 12:3–10)

This week we begin the countdown for the next presidential election. It will not be pretty. A year before the 2016 election, I expressed my concerns to my parishioners that we were so polarized a nation that we would treat those with whom we disagreed politically as ‘the other” and that we needed to prepare spiritually for this. We are now an even more divided nation, and we could not begin this season better than by remembering the wisdom that the LORD is the lover of all our souls.