“Immense is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.” Sirach 15:15-20.
From week to week, we come here to share the underlying desire for a closer relationship with God. As the human face of God, Jesus teaches from his wisdom and how we must conduct ourselves in this task. We are approaching the Lenten season, so the readings have an urgency for preparation and discernment.
Someone once told me this little ditty: “Knowledge tells us that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom reminds us not to put tomatoes into a fruit salad.” This humorous quip comes from British journalist Miles Kingston.
True wisdom, like the efforts of a great chef, requires discernment in the kinds and textures of foods the blend together for a refreshing fruit salad or any salad for that matter. Wisdom requires insight and the habit of patient reflection.
By now, we recognized Jesus as a great teacher. Jesus’s wisdom deeply draws upon Judaism in all of its variations — as a living, breathing religious, spiritual tradition. And Jesus employs this spiritual force to bring us to the person of God in himself.
Jesus is the young rabbi who has just been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. He calls fishers and others to follow him in his teachings and healing ministry.
He was on his way to Jerusalem, a long journey where he crossed borders, noticing good people even among the Samaritans, and yet he’s uncomfortable with the religious practices of his own Jews, the scribes and Pharisees.
In today’s gospel, we witness his commentary on Jewish laws and commandments — some 613 commands of do’s and don’ts that consider all aspects of worship, family, vows, ritual purity, holidays, and mostly concerned with the human capacity of worshiping false gods. Yes, false gods!
Scripture scholars speak of five “great discourses” in Matthew’s gospel. The “Sermon on the Mount” of which today’s gospel passage comes with warnings about how to achieve holiness. We find these instructions about the moral life in Matthew Chapters 5 to 7.
Some of these statements are perhaps too bold by today’s standards. For example, it’s here where Jesus says: “If your right hand is your trouble, cut it off and throw it away! Better to lose part of your body, than to have it all cast into Gehenna.”
It’s vitally important to appreciate the full context for Jesus’s moral teaching. Moreover, how do we empower people to live this moral law, in season and out of season?
Let’s read the Beatitudes, once again, now taken from the New Living Translation Bible, a version of the text that I discovered recently:
God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
And God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.
Saint Matthew’s text emphasizes the very purpose of Jesus’s teaching that we must be shining examples or a moral force that matters. Again, our reading from last week’s Sunday liturgy:
For you are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on its stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
You are blessed in God’s eyes; you are the person that makes a difference, so teach by your example and by the light of Christ.
Also, Jesus was saying, and we heard this in last week’s gospel: “You are the salt of the earth.”
He reminds us that we must be both salt and light – like a searchlight that probes the heart and soul, but also salt, that preserves the traditions that pass on from believer to believer, and from generation to generation.
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.