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The Golden Thread Called Wisdom

By Sr. Anne, SSJD.

1 Kings 3:5-12   Ps 119:129-136 Rom 8:26-39 Matthew 13: 31-33, 45 – 52.

Today’s readings are woven together by a common thread, a golden thread, called Wisdom. Anne Tanner, in a chapter on Wisdom from her book Practical Prayer, wrote that “Wisdom as a female personality meets us in the Bible and in Christian history.”

She goes on to say that many Bible passages that mention or where Wisdom is implied, point to a model of life in God that incorporate the feminine.

There are references in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament that give us descriptions of Wisdom as a distinct entity. For example, in Proverbs there is a fully formed feminine personality who was with God at the beginning of Creation.

Proverbs 8:22 – The Creator gave birth to me at the beginning before the first acts of creation.

Proverbs 8:29b-31 – When the foundation of the earth was laid out, I was the skilled artisan standing next to the Almighty. I was God’s delight day after day, rejoicing at being in God’s presence continually, rejoicing in the whole world and delighting in humankind.

Wisdom reveals herself to “sages” as scholars in the Wisdom tradition were called. She is seen as the gift of God, given to those who search for as they study and pray.

some examples from the Hebrew bible:

Baruch 3:14 – Learn where there is Wisdom, where there is strength, where there is understanding, so that you may at the same time discern where there is length of days and life; where there is light for the eyes, and peace

Wisdom of Solomon 7:22 – For Wisdom was my teacher and it was She who designed all these things. Inside Wisdom there is a spirit of intelligence that is unique and unmistakeable.

Wisdom of Solomon 6:17 – the true meaning of Wisdom is the desire to learn, and to be passionate about learning is to love Her.

Our first reading 1 Kings 3:5-12 is an example of Wisdom being employed by young king about to begin his reign – King Solomon. It is a prayer in which he recalls:

Wisdom of Solomon 7:7 – “So I prayed, and understanding was given to me; I called for help and the Spirit of Wisdom came to my aid.”

Solomon is young – probably 20 years old – and has inherited the mantle from his father David, a truly great king. He is assuming the leadership role formerly occupied by Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel and David. King Solomon is presented as a model of faith, of his life and his rule. He is preoccupied with being faithful & obedient in prayer. Moreover, he senses that a good rule and good living begin in prayer. It is a prayer which submits to God’s will and is prepared for obedience. This is a prayer that waits on God.  The prayer does not begin with petition but by remembering. In the petition Solomon asks for the capacity to do his work better. He asks for a “listening heart” that he may discern what the human dimensions of reality are. Solomon’s prayer is linked to his vocation of rule. He does not ask for personal gain, but for the good rendering on his call. Such prayer concerns the embrace of one’s vocation, and very likely faithful prayer is always linked to one’s call from God. Solomon is given what he asks. He is given a heart to do well. Solomon continues to do well by taking a humble stance before God by admitting that he doe not possess the required wisdom for his new position.

Wisdom in the Bible is more practical than philosophical. 1 Kings sets wisdom firmly in this practical and in this case political context. Politics carried out with wisdom will result in social harmony and beauty. In this context, Solomon’s request for “an understanding heart” is a request “to be wholly and completely obedient to the will of God so that he could govern God’s people wisely and well.” And so,

1 Kings 4:29-30 – God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the sea on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.

In the Gospels, the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes are wisdom discourses and the Gospel of John is written in the Wisdom tradition. The first verses of the Gospel of John (1;1-14) is based on Proverbs 8:22-31 and in this passage John sees Wisdom fulfilled in Jesus.

Wisdom is also associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus and with Jesus himself when he said

” Wisdom is vindicated by all her children”

Jesus is known both by the Greek term Logos (Word) and by the Hebrew term Sophia (Wisdom).

There are 102 Wisdom sayings attributed to Jesus, and the Parables are examples of these sayings.

Our Gospel reading from Matthew 13 today focuses on a collection of five parables of the kingdom of heaven. They are a series of snapshots taken from different perspectives. The term “Kingdom of Heaven is synonymous with “kingdom of God”. Matthew uses the former out of respect for the holiness of God’s name. The sources from which Jesus drew his parables came from the scenes and activities of everyday life. He began with things which were entirely familiar to his hearers in order to lead them to things which had never yet entered their minds. He took the parable of the mustard seed from the horticulturalists garden and the parable of the yeast from the kitchen of an ordinary house. The parables of the Mustard Seed and Yeast contrast small beginnings with their great effects, emphasizing the power of God’s action. They are addressed to the Crowds. As…….

With many such parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

The sources that Jesus took to illustrate the parable of the hidden treasure came from the everyday task of digging in a field and the parable of the pearl of great price came from the world of commerce and trade. The parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Parable of the Pearl are both parables of discovery, joy and action. The merchant is actively looking for pearls, while the other person just stumbles onto treasure hidden in a field. They are overwhelmed with the joy of discovery. The parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl have to do with objects of great value which would inspire great commitment. The illustration for the parable of the drag net came from the seashore of the Sea of Galilee. The Parable of the Net emphasizes the present openness of the kingdom to all who would enter and the great judgment to come in which the bad will be separated from the good. These three parables are addressed to the disciples who left everything to follow Jesus.

When Jesus had finished speaking about the Kingdom, he asked his disciples if they had understood and they had at least in part. In the parable of the Master of the Household, which is the final part of this reading,

Jesus in effect was saying this

“You are able to understand, because you came to me with a fine heritage. You came with all the teaching of the law and the prophets. A scribe comes to me with a lifetime of study of the law and of all its commandments. That background helps you to understand. But after you have been instructed by me, you have the knowledge, not only of the things you used to know but of things you never knew before, and even the knowledge which you had before is illuminated by what I have told to you.”

Jesus compares his disciples to scribes – those qualified to teach the meaning of scripture. Scribes train for the kingdom of heaven by studying scripture. The image is of a reverent and disciplined person, carefully attending to the Word of God. Matthew may be thinking of Jesus’ disciples as endowed with wisdom, authority, the right understanding of the law and perhaps with some measure of prophetic inspiration. The old things come from their Jewish heritage, and the new things are the expanded understanding drawn from Jesus’ teachings. Jesus disparages neither old of new things.

In the early church, Wisdom was held in deep veneration and there are references to her as the Holy Spirit. Paul, who regarded all else a loss “for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord.” is quoted in 1 Corinthians 1:24 – “Christ is the power and the wisdom of God

Our Epistle reading today employs the Holy Spirit or Wisdom in a form of intercessory prayer particularly from Chapter 8: vs.26 & 27 which reads:

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words. And God who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit because her intercessions for God’s holy people are made according to the mind of God.

William Barclay described these verses as “one of the most important passages on prayer in the whole New Testament.” The prayers are offered for us by the Holy Spirit or by Wisdom. It is in the midst of this suffering, groaning, and waiting that the Spirit or Wisdom intercedes for us. This type of prayer allows us to pray from the heart and all we can bring to God is an inarticulate sigh (groan) which the Spirit will translate to God for us.

The Apostle James had this to say about Wisdom

James 3:13, 17 & 18 – “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness, born of wisdom. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

Gerald von Rad describes Wisdom as “a reality surrounded by profound mystery.”

Wisdom has a reality that cannot be explained away. When we grow in Wisdom and Understanding, we are embodying Wisdom in some measure.

When we meditate upon scriptural references to Wisdom, we begin to see with new eyes how the portraits of Jesus by the Evangelists are filled with the qualities of Wisdom and Understanding

Wisdom (Sophia) can become part of our prayer as we get to know Wisdom and follow wise teachings. May we too ask Sophia to enter our hearts and our minds in our life of prayer always.