The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, Wilhelm von Schadow, 1838-1842, Städel Museum
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 8, 2020
Today, we read for the first time in many months a passage from the “Wisdom of Solomon.” Let us make a quick review of it. Although it sounds ancient, it is perhaps the more recent book in the Old Testament and could have been written as late as 30 BC. Also, although it takes the name of King Solomon of Jerusalem from about 1000 BC, it was most likely written in Alexandra Egypt for the children of the Jewish elite who were immersed in the Roman world and tempted to give up their faith.
The conceit of the book is that King Solomon is presenting to the other kings and princes of the world the mind of God. Note it is assumed that God has created the entire world and his laws are based on this creation. Memorably he begins:
Love justice, you who judge the earth;(Wisdom 1:1-3)
think of the LORD in goodness,
and seek him in integrity of heart;
In order for justice to exist there must be wisdom and in the passage we read today, the author returns to image of Solomon instructing other princes on how it may be found.
We must first back up a bit to the beginning of the chapter:
Hear, therefore, kings, and understand;(Wis 6:1–3)
learn, you magistrates of the earth’s expanse!
Hearken, you who are in power over the multitude
and lord it over throngs of peoples!
Because authority was given you by the LORD
and sovereignty by the Most High,
who shall probe your works and scrutinize your counsels!
The LORD, the God of the Israelites, is the source of all power. Because of that he is the one who will judge them. They will be judged not on how much wealth or power they accumulated or on how many temples they built but on how just they were.
Because, though you were ministers of his kingdom,(Wis 6:4)
you judged not rightly,
and did not keep the law,
nor walk according to the will of God,
They shall be judged strictly:
Terribly and swiftly shall he come against you,(Wis 6:5)
because judgment is stern for the exalted-
The only way to avoid this judgement is to obtain wisdom:
To you, therefore, O princes,(Wis 6:9–10)
are my words addressed that
you may learn wisdom and that you may not sin.
For those who keep the holy precepts hallowed
shall be found holy, and those learned in them
will have ready a response.
The section we read today expresses how wisdom is to be found:
Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom,(Wis 6:12)
and she is readily perceived by those who love her,
and found by those who seek her.
Wisdom is not hiding. She is “resplendent” – shining forth and wishes to be seen and found. The most essential element in finding Wisdom is not learning, nor power and position but love: “She is readily perceived by those who love her.”
She hastens to make herself known(Wis 6:13)
in anticipation of men’s Desire
Yet do the Kings, and Princes, ensconced in their palaces and wrapped in their wealth, really want Wisdom or are they too concerned about protecting their power and position?
Solomon urges them to stop, think and open their hearts. They need to prepare themselves to receive Wisdom:
For taking thought of her is the perfection of prudence,(Wis 6:15)
and he who for her sake keeps vigil
shall quickly be free from care;
We must desire Wisdom so much that we will spend the time to find her. This gives the greatest of all gifts: “[the seeker] shall quickly be free from care.“
Wisdom is not a passive trophy to be found but is actively engaged in seeking those who might wish to accept her.
Because she makes her own rounds,(Wis 6:16)
seeking those worthy of her, and
graciously appears to them in the ways, and
meets them with all solicitude.
This again is the language of love. Wisdom is not a thing nor is it an idea or law, it is a relationship with the mind of God and as we saw at the being of the book requires that we seek “with integrity of heart.” (Wis 1:3) Note also that the language is almost courtly. This is less an intellectual pursuit than falling in love.
The “Wisdom of Solomon” would not be read by kings but by the Jewish elite in Alexandria Egypt and perhaps other places in the diaspora where the Jews were under the authority of pagans. The temptation would always be to if not repudiate their Jewish faith to deemphasize it and make it more like their neighbors. The author is telling them that the LORD is God of all peoples and that the Kings and princes who are over them are not over the LORD. They will be judged by the same wisdom that the Jews had been taught since childhood. As the Jewish audience for this are themselves leaders, they will also be reminded that this is for them as well. How much do they desire wisdom, how much do they seek her, what will they put aside to receive Wisdom?
What will we?
The recent election season has shown that we are a county that is profoundly confused about what we believe. Few of our civil leaders are seen as wise. We will need to look elsewhere.
We celebrate this Sunday the feast of our patron St. Charles Borromeo. The saints are always our contemporaries and guides to the present because they realized, each in his or her own way, that we can have a real relationship with God and the door if we will accept His love. In their words and actions, we find true wisdom.
There is also the word of God. Among the original hearers were many who were poor and illiterate. Yet they understood that Jesus was offering them a relationship. As we live in a different world, we need to spend time examining Jesus’ cultural and religious background. This is important but the true meaning – the wisdom – will not be revealed by merely searching but in our relationship with Jesus.
To assist in this learning, the parish will be offering Bible study this Advent. Please look elsewhere in the email or the website for further details.
Wisdom is not found when we see her but only when we allow ourselves to be loved by her.