Twentieth Sunday of the Year
The word wisdom crops up in the call to live wisely. Though there is the conventional wisdom in contrast to everyday foolishness. Yet, in the Bible’s upside-down world, ‘foolishness’ is seen as wisdom. We see it in the God who endures hatred and rejection. We see it in the God who prefers to be with the weak and unjustly treated rather than the powerful. Wisdom is not about esoteric knowledge but about doing.
We see the subversive potential in Proverbs where Wisdom is depicted as a woman who really wants to reach out to those considered fools, the senseless and the immature – those of no account. Wisdom is occupied or preoccupied with hosting a feast and building a house - a community, a new people – God’s reign. This is not something or remote or unattainable, but present in small details: setting the table, getting the wine and preparing food for guests and even inviting ‘the simple’ to the feast. As a metaphor for the banquet of life, this feast is connected with walking with new and different understanding and reminiscent of the inclusiveness of Jesus parables.
This ‘wisdom’ can be in short supply. We can often choose expediency and self-interest over the common good. Leaders in the corporate world are measured not because they come up with best solutions for sustainability and social responsibility, but because they serve the profits of share-holders or electoral opportunities where principles are in short supply. Religious communities too can fall prey to holding on to self-interested beliefs and practices for their own benefit, rather than embrace what it serves whole planet and its peoples. Pope Francis says:
‘In the face of many petty forms of politics focused on immediate interests, I would repeat that “true statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good. Political powers do not find it easy to assume this duty in the work of nation-building”, much less in forging a common project for the human family, now and in the future. Thinking of those who will come after us does not serve electoral purposes, yet it is what authentic justice demands’ (Fratelli Tutti, # 178).
The wisdom presented in the scriptures shows how God works. God has so often tried to reach out to us in many ways that did not do the trick. Liberation from Egypt did not work. Nor did offering the people the Promised Land. Giving them a king when they wanted one did not work. Being led into exile and back home again did not work. Then, God comes as one of the ‘least of these’, born to poor parents, refugees, who in the contemporary pyramids of power were at the bottom. Hardly wise! By starting from below, Jesus says things that go against conventional wisdom such as love your enemies, pray for your persecutors, the first shall be last are signs that the reign of God is near. It is hardly conventional wisdom to desire to create a new humanity, a community of equals based on love, rather than on power, privilege and coercion. It is hardly conventional wisdom to promote nonviolence over revenge. It is hardly conventional wisdom to go slowly rather than quickly. The Gospels reveal how Jesus walked everywhere. When one walks one can also talk, one can stop and have time for others, share food, interact and touch people. This is how God works through Jesus that has a particular sensitivity for suffering. It is a way of understanding and looking with open eyes; it is about having a capacity to make visible what is invisible; of paying attention to inconvenient suffering, of taking responsibility for what is broken in our world whether it is directly people or the environment. Again Pope Francis speaks to this:
‘Only a gaze transformed by charity can enable the dignity of others to be recognized and, as a consequence, the poor to be acknowledged and valued in their dignity, respected in their identity and culture, and thus truly integrated into society. That gaze is at the heart of the authentic spirit of politics. It sees paths open up that are different from those of a soulless pragmatism. It makes us realize that “the scandal of poverty cannot be addressed by promoting strategies of containment that only tranquilize the poor and render them tame and inoffensive’ (Fratelli Tutti, #187)
The wisdom of Jesus is not an esoteric religious message, but one with a strong social meaning to heal and transform our world. But what does it mean to celebrate the Eucharist in a world where so many are hungry? Where so many a deprived from sharing in the Eucharist because they a remote from a worshipping community? Where so many people are deprived of decent health care or housing? Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ, former superior general of the Society of Jesus once said, ‘If there is hunger anywhere in the world, then our celebration of the Eucharist is incomplete everywhere in the world’.
Without softening his message and teaching Jesus tells in different ways who he is for us, the source of life for us, and what makes life for all. He is the bread of life and we are called to be the bread of life for one another. When Jesus say, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world”, he is identifying with the lowly, the destitute, forgotten and abused. And he invites us to a communion with the people whom he came to serve. It also involves questioning authorities and powers that continue perpetuate injustices and social ills calls us to a journey that liberates and empowers. Our hearts need to be awaken daily where we be part of setting people free from fear and despair, and raising them in dignity, confidence and joy. With him amongst us, we fulfil our calling by loving, forgiving, community building, peacemaking, receiving children and giving priority to all who are vulnerable by being nonviolent, being ready to enter into conversation that embraces our common humanity and open and respectful of all life. John is pointing to a God who overcomes evil and barriers, not through dominating it but through persistent persuasion - all of which is embodied in a new way in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Wisdom has spread her table and calls the fools in. Abiding with Jesus enables us to attain that wisdom or ‘mysticism’ that is less about knowledge but a knowing that comes from seeing more. Indeed a ‘mysticism with open eyes’ [after Johann Baptist Metz] with a deep sensitivity to suffering, and not the mysticism of closed eyes that shields, hides and covers up human reality and the dignity of our sisters and brothers. Sharing in Jesus’ flesh and blood, begins a process of revitalising our imaginations where we may realise and see deeply the interconnectedness of all creation brought to birth by a loving Creator. There no ‘them-and-us’ thing between ourselves and God. We are shaken from our indifference, apathy, neutrality and struggle oppose all forms of oppression and whatever dehumanises. It opens us to the brokenness within creation, to the foolishness of war, the disregard for the earth, the starving baby, the homeless refugee, the remote people in the Pacific whose island nations are threatened by climate change. We are one. This act of solidarity has major implications for the way we view one another. In the incarnation, God does not become one with people from the developed world, or with Christians, or with men, or with straight people or any exclusive group. God becomes one with flesh and blood - with all humanity. It we treat any group, nation or individuals as an ‘undesirable’ other, we breach the solidarity Jesus established by becoming flesh and blood….and our celebration ‘of the Eucharist is incomplete everywhere..’ Last weekend we commemorated the 76th anniversary Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In regard to this, the prophetic Sr. Joan Chittister will not permit a mysticism of closed eyes in our church or world:
‘War is a depredation of the human spirit that is sold as the loftiest of livelihoods. To hide the rape and pillage, the degradation and disaster, the training of human beings to become animals in ways we would allow no animals to be, we have concocted a language of mystification.
‘We refer to casualties now in terms of ‘collateral damage,’ the number of millions of civilians we are prepared to lose in nuclear war and still call ourselves winners. We call the deadliest weapons in the history of humankind, the most benign of names: Little Boy, Bambi, Peacemakers. The nuclear submarine used to launch Cruise missiles that can target and destroy 250 first-class cities at one time, for instance, we name ‘Corpus Christi,’ Body of Christ, a blasphemy used to describe the weapon that will break the Body of Christ beyond repair.
‘We take smooth-faced young men out of their mother’s kitchens to teach them how to march blindly into death, how to destroy what they do not know, how to hate what they have not seen. We make victims of the victors themselves. We call the psychological maiming, the physical squandering, the spiritual distortion of the nation’s most vulnerable defenders ‘defense.’ We turn their parents and sweethearts and children into the aged, the widowed, and the orphaned before their time. ‘We make a wasteland and call it peace,’ the Roman poet Seneca wrote with miserable insight.’
As the body of Christ breaks, may we allow God to break through our blurry eyes, open our hearts and minds. May celebrate the gifts of life and community. May we work to promote policies that ensure all people have access to the abundant life Jesus promised. May we courageously commit to the wisdom of justice, peace, compassion, sustainability, and sharing over the long haul. The Mass is ended. Let is begin the service!
you have set your table and called us to your banquet.
You allure us with your invitation.
Teach us to recognize and love all your ways, both familiar and subversive,
and place your unending melody in our hearts.