SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
WISDOM & FOOLISHNESS
“You’ve heard it said, but I say to you …” We heard these words of Jesus last week. This week He is still addressing his words to the motley bunch of people who are gathered around him at that Sermon on the Mount. And he still addresses them to us. We remember Jesus’ words from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And we recall the words from the Book of Leviticus today, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” Jesus is not addressing his words to angels. He is not addressing them to monks or nuns of the strict observance. He is addressing them to everyone who wishes to be a disciple of his. “Be holy, because the Lord, your God, is holy.”
For those who do not believe, these words of Jesus today are absurd. “Offer no resistance to injury.” “Offer the other cheek.” “If someone wants your shirt, hand him your coat as well.” “If you are pressed into service for one mile, go with him two miles.” “Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors.” In a word, you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Paul says today, “The wisdom of this world is absurdity with God.” The reaction of the non-believer is, “God’s wisdom is absurd for this world.”
Even honest, good-living Christians, say about these words of Jesus, “He is exaggerating for the sake of effect. He does not really mean His words to be taken literally. You couldn’t possibly live in the real world and put these words into practice.” They are saying to Jesus, “Get real, Jesus!” In a sense, we are saying, “The best we can do is to live with one foot in the real world and one foot in God’s world.”
A great theme of the Hebrew Scriptures is the contrast between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world. That theme is further developed in the New Testament. If we look around our world today we see the result of worldly wisdom. We see wars and poverty and injustice and oppression. The response of the world to aggression is aggression. We are told, “That is the only language ‘they’ understand.” But it doesn’t seem to work so well, does it? With superior force we can suppress aggression. But we can’t wipe it out. Force and aggression beget force and aggression. Revenge begets revenge. Anger begets anger. The ‘wisdom’ of this world is not all that effective!
Jesus in speaking about the Law says, “You’ve heard it said.” There’s a great passage in Deuteronomy that speaks about the Law. God says to the people, “What I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven … nor is it beyond the sea … No the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” This is what Jesus is telling us. Our relationship to the law of God depends on our relationship with Christ. We are men and women who have been given new life through water and Spirit. We are people who are living a new life. That new life is no less than the resurrected life of Jesus. In this new life we are called to put aside the old life of the wisdom of the world and take on the new life of the wisdom of God. Jesus is saying, “Discover that wisdom within you.”
Think of a respirator. A respirator is a great thing if you are unable to breathe on your own. It can mean the difference between life and death. The Jewish law was like a respirator for the Jewish people. It was something on the outside of them that helped them to breathe God’s life. It was the right thing for them at the right time. But now times have changed. The resurrected life of Jesus is within us. The Holy Spirit is within us. Finally, we can breathe on our own. That law – that respirator – is no longer the source of our life. We no longer look to a law to tell us what is right and good. We look to the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit within us. Water and the Spirit release the power and presence of God that is within us.
We can live the life that Jesus lays out for us. It is possible in Jesus. It is not easy. But it is the life that God created us for and it is the only path that leads to fulfillment. The wisdom of God may not be so foolish after all.