My heart was touched by a story this week of the 18-year-old young man who while driving drunk after a high school graduation party caused an accident which killed two classmates.
At his court appearance the father and sister of one of the deceased teens watched that tormented young man shed tears of remorse and express a heartfelt apology. They spoke to the judge in favor of a lenient sentence.
On the way out of court, that grieving father embraced that young man. The photo was flashed across the world.
The story had me in awe, and in a reflection on my own life.
Sometimes Wisdom manifests itself, and when it does, it is startling. From where did this father’s capacity for compassion leading to forgiveness arise?
We hear from Wisdom in our first reading. Wisdom is the personification of God’s call to us, which searches all things and calls us to attention and challenges us. Our local Greek Orthodox congregation, for instance, is called “St. Sophia”. That means “Holy Wisdom.” The members of that congregation always have before them in their name a reminder to listen for God.
Lady Wisdom is in the streets where people come and go, in the public square where politics are debated, on the busy corner where business is done, in the city gate where issues of justice are settled.
And she’s raising her voice. She’s yelling, because she’s been so universally ignored in those places! She calls for our attention, and warns us of the cost of ignoring her urgent appeal.
The warning is unsettling. “Because you’ve ignored all my counsel, I’ll laugh at your calamity!” That’s troubling to hear. It is partially softened for us by the promise made at the end of the reading: “…those who listen to me will be secure and will leave at ease, without dread of disaster.” That helps, but the warning remains. Ignoring wisdom leads to terrible predicaments. Someone probably warned that 18-year-old boy about driving drunk, but he didn’t heed. Now he’s got jail time, because that’s mandatory in Michigan for his offense.
In the Gospel writings and in the Church’s faith Jesus is the embodiment of Holy Wisdom.
Hear him today speaking. Observe how he is ignored, as the Lady Wisdom in Proverbs is ignored. He speaks in a way that flies in the face of the expectations of his disciples, particularly Peter. He will not be the king who conquers by force. He will be the anti-king whose hallmark is servanthood.
See Peter ignore Holy Wisdom. See Peter try to shush Jesus up. See Jesus come right back at Peter, treating him like the adversary. “Get behind me, Satan! You’re thinking like mortals think!
And how do mortals think?
We seek knowledge rather than wisdom. We want information, not insight. We seek knowledge – as our first parents did in the Garden in the story of the forbidden fruit – because by knowledge we hope to gain power and mastery. That was clearly Peter’s hope for Jesus. He wanted Jesus to seize power in the expected way.
Theologian and biblical scholar Ellen Davis makes this very point. Knowledge is a “form of power”, she writes. In this sense, knowledge is “abstracted from goodness.” She points out that Israel’s scriptures don’t recommend any “form of knowledge which is abstracted from the concrete problem of how we may live in kindness and fidelity with our neighbors, live humbly and faithfully in the presence of God.”
The story of a grieving father showing compassion and mercy stuck out for me this week amid news of hatreds breaking into violence, of intractable political fights, in a world of endless war. It spoke to me of someone who has heard Wisdom’s call.
My guess is that man has spent time away from the madness and noise listening for Wisdom. He’s probably had every scenario go through his brain; had every opportunity to embrace bitterness and anger as his response to the terrible loss of his son. It seems he listened for Holy Wisdom.
Holy Wisdom is always speaking; we’re just often not listening.
How can we hear the voice of Wisdom?
Wisdom speaks to us in the context of basic practices: Daily silence and daily prayer with examination of conscience. Daily giving thanks. Daily acts of mercy and kindness. Weekly worship. Giving generously of our money. Fasting and Feasting.
These practices cultivate peace. Life feels right; takes on meaning.
The passage from Proverbs promises that those who listen to Holy Wisdom will find security and ease in living.
As the example of our forgiving father shows, there is no guarantee in life that we will experience no great trial. But there is the promise here that good things will come to us who cultivate a relationship with Divine Wisdom.
Jesus Christ speaks to us today as Wisdom incarnate. In a world where we seek knowledge in order to gain power, he calls us to lose our lives in order to save them; to seek the wisdom that makes for insight into how we can live compassionately with one another, as he lives compassionately with all of us.
O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.