Stumbling Upon a Pile of Wisdom
Overheard from 9 year old David: “It’s tough being a kid, even tougher being a good kid.” From 8 year old Justin: “When a girl keeps on teasing you, and says she doesn’t like you, and bugs you all the time, she really likes you.” From 7 year old Jeannie: “The best place to be when you are sad is in your grandma’s lap.”
Have you ever met someone who just seemed so much wiser beyond their years? People with this sort of wisdom are not easy to spot. The look of their chronological age and bearing is often deceiving. You try to size them up, and you discover that kind of wisdom comes from experience they can’t possibly already have. It isn’t something learned in the classroom. Sometimes there is a lack of basic education. Sometimes they haven’t even learned to read yet. Ordinarily, they don’t say much. If they do, most of it is not truly memorable. Instead they like to watch. They are curious. They don’t see things the way other people see things. They ask oddly deep and insightful questions. They don’t always share what they are thinking. You almost have to drag it out of them. And when they are able to put into words the wisdom that has been swirling around in their heads, they might express truths that are all at once simple, concise, perceptive, and thoughtful. But you will not see it coming. They probably don’t see it coming either. It just tumbles like a golden egg out of an ordinary goose right before your eyes. And if you’re not paying attention, you just might miss it.
Now unlike the young King Solomon in today’s first reading, who when God promised to grant him whatever he wished, did not pray for wealth or health or fame or power, but rather for wisdom to rule Israel with justice and right judgment, we are not as inclined to ask for such noble gifts. We yearn instead for that which is tangible and bankable and useful for further advancement. God did grant Solomon even greater gifts that what he did ask for. And his reign in Israel was seen as prosperous and peaceful, the envy of his neighbors and of generations to come. For many, wisdom is something we stumble upon, or something that unexpectedly tumbles out of our mouths, or someone else’s, catching us off-guard, nudging us in the direction of what nourishes, what transforms, and what gives new life. But it can inflict suffering in the process as well, mainly because the truths wisdom proclaims will almost always cut deep.
The Word of God has that kind of power to penetrate into the depths of the mind and heart, because nothing is hidden from God’s eyes. The image of a two-edged sword from the letter to the Hebrews hints at God’s surgical precision in finding and directing our attention to whatever in us is in greatest need of healing and transformation. But God doesn’t always work in ways predictable and rational by human standards. So we welcome wisdom wherever she finds us. And that moment of truth, even if it brings pain and suffering along with it, is an invitation to healing and transformation.
The young man who came to Jesus in the gospel was on fire with love for God, and eagerly yearned for an even more sublime spiritual experience. He must have been listening attentively, drinking in all Jesus’ words with an unquenchable thirst for the life of God. I don’t ever recall such intense a yearning as that young man when I was younger. Yes, like many of my friends I may have found the life of virtue attractive, the stories intriguing of saints who did mighty deeds, saw glorious visions, and spoke in strange tongues, who were ablaze with fire for all things holy and heavenly. But I discovered early on that the path of discipleship could be tedious and challenging, and probably not until just before ordination to the priesthood that it can sometimes be burdensome, unforgiving, and unrewarding. But by then I was also more of a realist. I had begun to connect the dots, discovering a discipleship that wasn’t all miracles and visions and prophetic utterances. Instead, discipleship in my limited experience was about rejoicing in God’s blessings, and struggling with human weakness, and returning to God in repentance, and living faithful to my baptismal promises. It was not going to be easy, but it did have its perks. So when the young man asked what more he needed to do, and Jesus instructed him to observe the commandments of the Law, he sincerely responded, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus looked at him, and loved him, and truly appreciated how deeply and genuinely the young man loved God. And recognizing this yearning within the young man’s heart, Jesus invited him to draw closer to the heart of the Father. “There is one thing … Rid yourself of all earthly treasures. You will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Perhaps like Icarus in Greek mythology, who came too close to the sun too soon on his journey to freedom with his wings made of wax, the rich young man came too close too soon to the harsh reality of what it means to follow Jesus. Like young people in every age, he was inexperienced, idealistic, impulsive. He wanted immediate results. His enthusiasm for anything, even for the things of God, was disproportionally intense and unrealistic. Unlike the twelve who had been with Jesus for some time at this point, he was not familiar with the life to which Jesus was calling him, with a fair mix of tedium and excitement, rejection and adulation, mystery and understanding.
All manner of discipleship in the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed will require a reordering of our priorities. For this young man, the main obstacle was his wealth. It got in the way of his yearning for fulfillment, and happiness, and God. But perhaps his priorities weren’t set in stone yet. He was young and willing, after all, to live by the commandments. And what Jesus asks of those he calls to follow him is nothing less than a wholehearted offering of self to the service of God’s design. Eventually it will take the top spot in our hierarchy of values. It just might take some time.
Peter eventually said out loud what the rest of them were probably thinking, “What about us?” As daunting as it seemed, Jesus assures us that God will not be outdone in generosity. Whatever we set aside, God will match a hundredfold—with persecutions and eternal life. “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” We don’t know what happened after the young man walked away. Maybe he needed the time to rethink his life. Maybe he came back. I’m sure Jesus had a place for him in the master plan. What will it take for us to put Jesus and his mission ahead of everything? What is that one obstacle that stands in the way?
Overheard from 9 year old James: “Childhood is not preparation for life. It is life.” From 11 year old Leslie: “Life is filled with ups and downs, but most of the time I’m going sideways.” From 8 year old Kate: “It’s okay to fail, but it’s not okay to give up.”
Rolo B Castillo © 2015