Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wisdom prepares a Feast

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
(If Sunday is not celebrated as the Solemnity of the Assumption of the B.V.M.)

In the medieval world, the Wisdom of God was revealed through prayer, contemplation, and the man’s natural environment. So the early Christians prayed to Holy Wisdom and asked that the path to knowledge be shown to them, and that Wisdom would help them to walk in that path. Wisdom then led to knowledge, which led to Christ, the ultimate revelation of God, and to the salvation of souls. However, today, this progression has been reversed. In the postmodern, twenty-first century, global world, knowledge does not come from wisdom. In fact, wisdom does not come first. In the postmodern world, wisdom is nothing more than accumulated knowledge. The more we know, the wiser we think ourselves to be. And many a modern man or woman would pride themselves that they are wise enough to abandon the fairy tale belief in a God that had yoked their forefathers for centuries.

Today’s readings, however, exposes the foolishness of this modern mindset that has equated wisdom with mere knowledge, specifically empirical knowledge. The Book of Proverbs that is quoted in today’s first reading would exhort the reader to seek the source of all true wisdom in God alone. The Hebrew word for Wisdom is hokhmah, a feminine noun.  Both wisdom and folly are personified as women, one a lady, the other a harlot. Each has built a house, prepared a feast and invited guests to come and partake of the fare each has provided. While wisdom’s banquet of meat and wine results in life for the participant, folly’s miserly offering of bread and water lead only to death. Therein lay the point of comparison. The choice for life or death hinges upon which invitation is accepted. Contemporary readers may wonder whether anyone would actually be mindless enough to choose folly over wisdom. The two may not seem equal but since Wisdom’s banquet requires a long period of learning and sacrifice, the lure of quick pleasure offered by Folly easily captures many.

For Christian readers, wisdom’s feast is a prophetic image, a foreshadowing of a meal that God would one day provide which would bestow wisdom and life on his people. The Eucharistic undertones is clear but the banquet is also reminiscent of the Great Wedding Feast of the Kingdom to which all would be invited and at which Christ Himself would act as host. It is those who reject the invitation, who disobey the King’s commands, who refuse to present themselves appropriately for the occasion who would rue the day, for their choice would result in the fruits of that banquet, salvation and eternal life, be denied to them.

Likewise, Wisdom’s banquet also alludes to the past. The idea of a meal that bestows wisdom does not appear here in Proverbs for the first time in Scripture.  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil bore fruit that bestowed a certain kind of “wisdom.”  The way the snake advertises the tree and its fruit to Eve, he makes it sound like they will attain God-like knowledge, or omniscience, from eating the fruit.  Of course, that didn't happen. Why did God command the man not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Was the woman wrong to see that this tree was “to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6)? Did the fruit of the tree or at least her decision to eat it make her any wiser? The answer to the last question is certainly No. Mere knowledge is not synonymous with wisdom.

In the second reading, St Paul tells the Ephesians to live “like intelligent and not like senseless people.” The word “sophoi, ”which literally means those who possess wisdom, is translated here as “intelligent people”, whereas “asophoi,” which means those who have no wisdom, is translated as “senseless people.” St Paul then explains the nature of such wisdom – it is to “recognise what is the will of the Lord.” So, it is wrong to imply that God gave that injunction against eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because he wished his creatures to remain foolish rather than wise. On the contrary, God made man in his image and likeness, a marvellous gift that would have included wisdom. But such wisdom is to be found in obedience and not in disobedience. In the gospels, we come to understand that the life and death of Jesus makes the will of God plainly visible. In order to choose wisdom, a Christian would be required to model his life after Jesus, a life that is considered foolishness to men and yet wise in God’s eyes because of Jesus’ perfect obedience.

Wisdom is always the fruit of obedience and trust. Adam and Eve, in their desire to be intelligent, were desiring to be free of God’s authority. Instead of trusting the goodness of God’s commandment which tells them the fruit is not yet theirs, they placed their trust in the cunning serpent, who promised them divinity, a divinity that came at the cost of usurping the authority of God. They failed to realise that not to believe the word of God is death, for foolishness of disobedience blocks the way to the other tree, the tree of life.

In the Gospel passage, Jesus continues his discourse on the Bread of Life.  The language gets increasingly concrete and graphic and deeply offensive to the Jews.. In fact, it descends into the macabre with Jesus suggesting the abhorrent practice of cannibalism by speaking of the need to “eat” his “flesh” and “drink” his “blood.” Not only cannibalism was abhorrent to the Jews but even blood drinking was specifically forbidden by the Law. Like Adam and Eve, his listeners had grown sceptical of the wisdom of Christ’s words. Instead of trusting Jesus’ commandment which would have provided them with the gift of eternal life, many then and even now choose to reject these words as ridiculous, pure foolishness. Such divine wisdom could not pass through the gauntlet of human logic.

“Anyone who eats this bread will live forever!” Jesus offers his body as a kind of new fruit of the Tree of Life, as well as a new Feast of Wisdom from which one can eat and live.  The Eucharist is indeed the Feast of Wisdom because it is the Feast of Life – eternal life which is communion with God.  This life in communion with God is the highest wisdom, and surpasses all wisdom, because it seals this bond between God and man. By eating the Body and drinking the Blood of Christ in the Eucharist we become united to the person of Christ through his humanity. "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." In being united to the humanity of Christ we are at the same time united to his divinity. Our mortal and corruptible natures are transformed by being joined to the source of life. The ultimate promise of the Gospel is that we will share in the life of the Holy Trinity. The Fathers of the Church called this participation in the divine life “divinisation” (theosis). In a divine twist, that which was desired by Adam and Eve but denied to them as a result of their disobedience, is made available through this food which Christ now commands us to partake.

Noting the disbelief today of many Christians in the real Presence of Our Lord, Pope Benedict XVI explained: “Precisely because we are dealing with a mysterious reality which surpasses our comprehension, we should not be amazed if even today many find it difficult to accept the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  It could not have been otherwise…Today, just as back then, the Eucharist remains a ‘sign of contradiction’ … because a God who becomes flesh and sacrifices himself for the life of the world puts into crisis the wisdom of men.” The Eucharist is therefore offered to us today as it was in the past as an antidote and answer to the culture of death, a culture where the logic of power and domination prevails. Ironically, it is what the world considers foolish that is ultimately our most prized wisdom. For the Wisdom which comes through obedience to God and which Christ now offers in the Eucharist, does not only provide us with knowledge of God. It is also a Wisdom that will save the world from all its folly and from destruction.

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