Thursday, 12 November 2015

Week 32 Thursday (Year 1) - 12 November 2015

Readings: Wisdom 7:22-8:1; Psalm 119; Luke 17:20-25

We find intimations of the Blessed Trinity throughout the books of the Old Testament. The Lord, the God of Israel, is revealed in His wisdom and in His spirit. At times it is a question of Wisdom and Spirit, with capital letters, personifications of qualities or characteristics of God that refer to different aspects of God's presence in creation and of creation's relationship to God. And at times these aspects are spoken of in 'personal' terms, in terms of awareness, responsiveness, and action.

Today's first reading is a remarkable hymn to Wisdom, a litany of her qualities and activities within creation. But at times it might be regarded also as a hymn to the Spirit of God. In fact it opens by telling us that 'in wisdom is a spirit, intelligent, holy, etc', and wisdom is 'a spirit that pervades all spirits'. Mobile beyond all motion wisdom penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity. While renewing all things - a work of the Spirit according to other texts of the Bible - Wisdom herself remains.

Who says that the Hebrews were not as well able for philosophy as the Greeks! Who says that the 'primitive' peoples of the ancient world were not as capable of sophisticated thought about theology as modern people consider themselves to be! Here is an effort to describe the divine presence in creation. God is not one of the things within the creation but stands before all of them. God is not an aspect or power or element or force within the creation but stands beneath all aspects, all powers, all elements, all forces. God is not finding himself in creation but stretches from end to end of it: in other words is its goal as much as he is its source. But this is not to push God out of the creation, to say that God has no place in it just because he is not part of it. It is to say rather that while God is transcendent of the creation, above and beyond it (obviously not in any spatial sense: this would be to pull God back into the universe and place him somewhere), God is also immanent, the deepest reality at the heart of all things.

The Bible adds a personalisation of the Divine Wisdom to what theologically minded philosophers already saw. This refers not just to those biblical texts where God's Wisdom is spoken of as a woman who invites her clients to come, be wise, learn from her, eat her bread and drink her wine. It refers also to the ways in which the Divine Wisdom comes to dwell in holy souls, lives and works in them, dwells in human persons to produce friends of God and prophets. It refers to the ways in which God dwelt in Abraham and Moses, in David and Isaiah - the Word or Wisdom of God placed in them by God's Spirit who thus spoke through these prophets.

Christians reading through these texts see a wonderful build up to what is revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. Here is one who is more than a friend of God or a prophet. Here is the one who is the Messiah. More than that, here is the one in whom the Spirit of God is at work in a unique way, one who is himself the Wisdom or Word of God. The end of today's first reading tells us that wisdom takes precedence over light, for light is conquered by darkness whereas wickedness cannot prevail over wisdom: this re-appears in the prologue of Saint John's gospel which tells of the Incarnation of the Word of God - the light who has come into the world, through whom all things were made, the life of human beings, a light that the darkness cannot overcome.

'Wisdom reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things well'. It is the only biblical text quoted in the famous work of Boethius On the Consolation of Philosophy. Wisdom governs all things well and reaches from end to end.

Today's gospel reading fits perfectly with this. The kingdom of God (God's presence and power) is not here or there but is present among us. It cannot be identified with this or that because it is in and through all things. The revelation of that kingdom in the presence and the return of Christ fulfills what is spoken of in the text from Wisdom. 'Just as lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.'

Here is the final personification of the Wisdom of God, revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. But - strangest mystery of all - he is destined first to suffer greatly and be rejected. In the wise foolishness of God Jesus stretches his arms on the cross, from one side to the other, governing all things sweetly from that master's chair, carrying us beyond anything revealed before then about God's Wisdom and Love. All philosophy is contained there, all our understanding and knowledge of God. It is why Edith Stein wrote about the knowledge that comes only through the cross. It is why Thomas Aquinas says that he learned everything, all his philosophy and theology, from his contemplation of Christ crucified.

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