32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

I remember a cartoon of two dinosaurs huddled together on a hill. The rising floodwaters had forced them to seek higher ground. Behind them appears to be Noah’s Ark. The dinosaurs look defeated, and one says to the other, “Was that today?”

To a wise person, a lot of what doesn’t make sense is foolishness. And to a foolish person, a lot of what is beyond his ability to understand must be wisdom. Now I am painfully aware that there are things I simply don’t understand, and no amount of explaining will bring me greater wisdom or understanding. But there are times I think I understand certain things that people who I know are smarter than me just don’t seem to get. If I lost you somewhere in the last minute or so, you’re probably thinking it must not have been all that important. But how do we tell if we’ve been missing out on important things? Does the lightbulb come on by itself? Does someone have to flick the switch? Do we even care? Should we?

I have to admit there are a lot of things people presume every grown-up should know. Call it acquiring basic life skills. I found several lists online. One of them is by the author Joe Oliveto, who says “In order to convince your parents to stop worrying about you (and your friends to start returning your calls), here are 30 things you should be able to do by age 30.”[1] It’s just one man’s opinion. It’s not the gospel. By age 30, you should be able to change a tire, operate a grill, pair wine to a meal, swim, change your oil, throw a football, do your taxes, take a decent picture, build a respectable wardrobe, fix basic household problems, dance like an adult, get around without a phone, parallel park, play a vinyl record, balance a checkbook, jump-start a car, tie a tie, nail a job interview, make a decent cocktail, iron clothes, ride a bike, cook, drive stick, control your drinking, control your anger, choose a date, keep a living space, build a fire, brew a decent cup of coffee, and start a conversation.

Now some of you might think, this is a man’s list, and just ignore it altogether. I don’t blame you. It was written by a man from a man’s perspective. But there are some things we don’t mess with because we can pay professionals. The rest might make sense, but people are known to live productive lives without knowing how to swim or dance or take pictures or iron or cook or brew coffee. Or they learned way back when, but have survived never having to call on the skill ever again.

Another list by author Erin Russell only gives 10 things.[2] She makes no mention of cars. She does mention sports and alcohol. The rest are about money, morality, politics, and history. I’d say her list was generally more consequential than the first list. She admits that at 30, she still does not know what she wants to be when she grows up. And like me, she is still baffled by how people continue to be awful to one another.

Wisdom that is entirely a gift, we can call insight. If it is something we learn by doing, we call it experience. Either way, for those who desire it, wisdom clearly affects one’s outlook and influences how one interacts with the world around them. In sacred scripture, wisdom personified is “Sophia,” an image of the Holy Spirit, who opens the mind and heart to the ways of God. “She is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire; whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed, for he shall find her sitting by his gate.”[3]

Now there is a distinct difference between human wisdom and God’s wisdom. We might be familiar with human wisdom. It is that which reminds us that the one person we can truly rely on is ourselves. It tells us to be wary of strangers, and that most people will cheat, steal, and lie to get ahead if the opportunity presents itself. It tells us not to trust anyone implicitly, and to look out for number one.

Conversely, God’s wisdom is seldom about winning and getting ahead in the world. It is never about getting even or getting back at one’s oppressors. It is not burdened by self-respect, jealousy, guilt, or vengeance. It has nothing to do with karma or schadenfreude. Instead it enlightens and liberates, inspiring hope and courage and optimism. It gives the ability to see beyond present inconveniences and discomforts toward the greater good, even the good that God desires. It is not some quantifiable value. It is not a bankable commodity. Those who lack it don’t appreciate it, probably never will. Yet those who possess it gratefully consider themselves truly blessed.

The story of the ten bridesmaids in the gospel parable describes a kind of wisdom that Jesus regards as essential for Christian discipleship. Possessing sufficient oil for one’s lamp is an image of being prepared to enter fully into that which is truly and enviably desirable—the eternal wedding banquet, but still requires some purposeful participation on our part. What many a coach and guidance counselor and academic advisor has often said rings true here. “In the end, you only get out of it what you put into it.” Ultimately, if you’re not paying close attention—and now we’re actually talking Christian discipleship, which involves so much more than just the desire to squeeze through the pearly gates—don’t be surprised if you come up short, and miss the boat entirely. The wisdom of having sufficient oil for one’s lamp pertains to the mindfulness needed to connect how we live with taking a seat at the heavenly feast. Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the crowd, “A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. … Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”[4]

Mother Teresa makes mention of this in one of her reflections. She writes, “What are the oil lamps of our lives? They are the little everyday things: faithfulness, punctuality, kind words, thoughtfulness of another person, the way we are silent at times, the way we look at things, the way we speak, the way we act. Those are the little drops of love which make it possible for our life of faith to shine brightly.”[5] The wisdom of God, the Holy Spirit, provides the oil for our lamps when we live intentionally the faith we claim, with every word, and every deed, desiring the good that God desires. So if you’re still in need of oil for your lamp, time is running out. The floodwaters are rising. You don’t want to miss the boat.

Rolo B Castillo © 2017

[1] https://www.thrillist.com/culture/30-things-all-adults-should-know-how-to-do

[2] https://www.elitedaily.com/life/still-dont-understand-at-30/1041994

[3] Wisdom 6: 12-14

[4] Matthew 5: 14-16

[5] http://saltandlighttv.org/blogfeed/getpost.php?id=27827