The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom. The Book of Wisdom is from a section of the Old Testament that is called “wisdom literature” and the purpose of these texts is to exhort and to persuade. Wisdom is presented as a divine gift that perfects merely human knowing- it is a grace through which one comes to understand what God intends and what God wants, and through this understanding one comes to deep and profound insights regarding the meaning and purpose of our existence.
This particular section from the Book of Wisdom presents both an insight about the human condition and a prophecy. The insight about the human condition is that humanity tends, because of sin, to reject and refuse what is good, preferring to exercise our willfulness and attain our desires even when doing so harms ourselves and others. This tendency subverts all attempts to “save” ourselves. Sin is a refusal of God’s will and purposes for our lives, and the lesson in this morning’s scripture from the Book of Wisdom is that humanity has a tendency to stumble when it comes to not only knowing God’s will and purposes, but also doing what God intends- in fact, more often than not, defiantly refuse what God wants, protesting that we know better.
The other lesson is a prophecy, a foreshadowing of what will happen to God when he reveals himself in Christ. Rather than acceptance and love, God in Christ will encounter in us opposition and refusal, and not only those, but also violence and scorn.
This is a sad fact that haunts the revelation of the Gospel and casts shadows into its light. As the Gospel of John attests “he (meaning God) came to his own and they knew him not”- meaning that his revelation was met with our refusal.
The lesson in this for us is that this refusal continues even in us for even in the most devout there is a dark part of our souls that says no to Christ, that meets his overtures, his will, with rejection, even scorn. We may keep that part our ourselves under wraps, hiding it behind a screen of piety or curtain of virtue, but the “no”, the refusal is there.
Our second scripture from the Letter of James supports and enhances the insight from the Book of Wisdom regarding the human condition. Divine Wisdom indicates a purpose for us that is contrary to the self-striving of our egos and the rapacious manner we so often pursue our desires. The assessment of the Letter of James is harsh, unyielding, and it is echoed in the great insight of the Apostle Paul that the good we should do we don’t and the evil that we should refuse, we seek to accomplish.
The light the scriptures cast into the darkness of the human condition provoke in us the question of who or what can deliver us from the wicked tendencies within ourselves?
Our culture is not unique in that it proposes as the answer to this question strategies for self-improvement, techniques for overcoming the darkness within ourselves through acts of our own will. And this is not without merit, we can still choose what is good and align our decisions with what God wills, but the insight of scriptures is that this will inevitably fall short. We need more than a self-improvement program, we need a person, a divine person, who will, through his relationship with us, set us right.
This divine person is Jesus Christ, who reveals himself as being not just a teacher or philosopher, but a Lord and Savior. He is Lord because he is God and he is Savior because he alone can reach into the darkness and depth of our condition and impart light and healing from the inside.
I am speaking now of the great revelation, the great mystery of who the Lord Jesus really and truly is and why he matters. The Lord Jesus is God, the one, true God, who accepts for himself a human nature and lives a real, human life. He does this to contend with our refusals personally and meet us in our darkest moments face to face. He even goes into the furthest limits of our refusals, a revelation that happens through his passion and death, in which we see the unnerving truth of just what humanity is capable of, that we have in ourselves the capacity for such cruelty and violence and that even those seemingly closest to God can falter and fail in the most egregious ways!
But not only do we see in the cross of Jesus a dark image of ourselves, the confirmation of the insight about the human condition we heard today from the Book of Wisdom, but we also see the fulfillment of prophecy, a foreshadowing that comes to fulfillment- God in Christ enters into the darkness of our refusals and bears into that refusal his divine light. This is his mission. This is his purpose.
And today’s Gospel indicates that it is a mission and purpose that even Christ’s disciples, even Christians, find difficult to accept or understand.
Christ testifies in his Gospel what he has come into this world to accomplish and it is absolutely befuddles his disciples. What they expect is that he will set a world gone wrong right by violence and a deal with humanity’s refusal of God by force. But Christ proclaims the mystery of his suffering and his death as the means by which he will conquer the world and the cross as the means by which he will confront humanity’s refusal.
It’s contrary to expectations and an utterly counter intuitive strategy. It’s the wisdom of God versus the wisdom of the world.
And Christ’s followers don’t like it, and honestly, neither do many of his followers today. The revelation of God in Christ overturns all our expectations regarding what God should do and how he should do it.
Truly being a disciple of the Lord Jesus means accepting as the mission of our lives not something that we make up for ourselves but a way of life that is God-given, it means a willing surrender to a will and purpose that is not our own. This is inherently off putting, and even painful, because it means admitting that our lives are not simply about ourselves, our own plotting and planning, and that we will find fulfillment not in the attainment of our own desires, but in God’s desire for us.
The wisdom of God in Christ, is an act of trust that God knows better than ourselves what is good for us, and this contradicts the wisdom of the world, which insists that we know better than God.