Where is wisdom found? As an educator, it is easy to mix up the knowledge that gets an A on a test from the wisdom that teaches me how to live. It is possible when engaged in high level study we become so absorbed in books we stop actually living in the real world. Knowledge we gain from reading newspapers, or watching TV can actually lead us to becoming addicted to a tribal way of viewing the world. There is my team and your team, and the purpose of my life is to make sure my team wins. Where is wisdom to be found?
Some would suggest that wisdom can be found once we make a lot of money. Others might suggest wisdom is found in colleges or universities. Still others indicate we need to find a guru to provide us with spiritual wisdom. Or, we need to buy this get rich quick scheme from this infomercial, or we need to try this new technique, or get this new product, or adopt this new system of organizing things, of eating, of exercise, of … And the list goes on and on.
But the answer Saint Paul gives in today’s second reading is that true wisdom for us is found in what appeared to be a failure. The crucifixion of Jesus was his public execution. Even today we do not see someone as a hero when they are executed. Every aspect of this publicly was a failure. And this failure is not where the people Paul mentions are looking. Jews want signs that demonstrate the awesome power of God. Greeks are immersed in philosophical thinking to find wisdom. But we Christians find ourselves embracing the moment of the cross as our wisdom, and Jesus’ dying on the cross as our sign.
This is because when we embrace the cross, we are embracing the Son of God who found nothing more important than following the will of the Father and performing the actions this will required. The apparent failure of the public execution is actually the moment of triumph for the Son of God. The repentant thief goes to paradise. The centurion recognizes Jesus for who is. And the world is saved.
And the quest for our salvation is God’s loving purpose. The commandments in the first reading indicate the plan of life that God gives us for our own good. The actions described in the gospel of Jesus in the Temple remind us that religion is never to be the exploitation of the poor but is rather for the greater glory of God.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen indicated that for Paul, this passage was a recognition that the crucifixion of Christ is the source of our compelling message. He knew well the argument of his Jewish roots. He tried to discuss philosophy with the Greeks to bring them to believe in Jesus, but to no avail. When he next preached, he knew that the cross of Christ was the preaching. It was Christ’s greatest pulpit. To avoid placing the cross of Jesus front and center is a failure to see that our salvation is to turn our lives over to the will of the Father wherever that leads us.
In order for us to be saved, to turn our lives over to God, to accept God’s loving embrace to follow him wherever he leads, we must be ready to proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. The prayer, fasting and almsgiving of Lent is really about coming into a deeper relationship with Jesus and to become more active in the Church. It is the concrete witness we provide that calls the world to see that we are ready to show just how lifegiving and fulfilling our faith can be when we love God and neighbor. Take this Sunday of Lent to seek the presence of God. Find the way you need to embrace the loving presence of God in all you do. Recommit yourself to placing yourself in God’s presence every day. Go to Mass, read the bible, pray in your room, serve the poor, love the people you encounter today. And in all this, proclaim Christ crucified, the ultimate act of love that witnesses to our salvation.