Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Wis 7:7-11
2) Heb 4:12-13
Gospel: Mk 10:17-30 or 10:17-27
The Israelites weren’t the only people in the ancient world who had wisdom. Everywhere in the ancient Near East, men and women learned from experience and passed on their findings.
Some of their thoughts were written down, and a few of the writings have survived the centuries, so it is possible to see how closely some of the ideas about how to live a good and successful life were shared by other peoples and the people of Israel.
There is even a chapter or so of the biblical book of Proverbs adapted, possibly, from an Egyptian writing. The Israelite sages were happy to repeat the Egyptian author’s warnings not to oppress the poor or encroach on your neighbor’s property (see Prv 22:22, 28).
One way, however, in which the scribes who wrote the wisdom books of the Bible (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Sirach) went beyond their neighbors is that they not only handed on wisdom for leading a constructive and honorable life but also urged people to seek wisdom itself. Today’s first reading is a classic example.
The remarkable thing about this encouragement is that it commends wisdom as better than anything wisdom leads to. Wisdom can guide us to prosperity — there is a wisdom for knowing how to scout out job opportunities, how to sail through interviews and get hired, how to advance your career, how to handle investments, and so on.
But wisdom itself is better than all the careers and profits it helps you obtain. Way better. The author of today’s reading says that he “deemed riches nothing” in comparison with wisdom.
Next to wisdom, he says, “all gold … is a little sand.” He has come to love wisdom more than “health and comeliness.” There is a wisdom of knowing how to dress and how to groom, but, the author says, wisdom itself is much better!
So what is this wisdom?
That is a big question — too big to address in 400 words. But here is a start. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10). Wisdom has to do with recognizing God as the creator and giver of life, being awed by his greatness, realizing that his ways are better than our ways and that he is more trustworthy than any earthly power.
If we would be wise, let us begin here.
Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.