Homily for August 16, 2009 | 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Today we are invited to consider the difference between foolishness and wisdom. But to really understand the difference, we have to set aside our preconceived notions of what these words mean.
A little boy was waiting for his mother to come out of the grocery store.
A stranger approached and asked, “Son, can you tell me where the post office is?”
“Sure!” said the boy, “Just go straight down this street a coupla blocks and turn to your right.”
“Thank you,” said the man. “I’m the new pastor in town. Why don’t you come to church on Sunday. I’ll show you how to get to Heaven.”
“Oh really…” said the boy. “You don’t even know the way to the post office.”
This story tells us something of how the world perceives wisdom. Wisdom is not just practicality, or business-as-usual. We see the conflict between the wisdom of God and Human wisdom in the Gospel reading today, when Jesus says he is the Bread of Life, and skeptics debate this among themselves. No doubt their debate was knowledgeable and scholarly, but it was not wise.
St. Paul tells us in the First Letter to the Corinthians:
“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
The key to understanding true wisdom as proclaimed by the Gospel is to discard what the world considers wisdom and to instead become fools in the eyes of the world.
The world tells us that compassion and forgiveness are foolish, because someone might take advantage of us.
The world tells us that greed is wise, because it will make us happy.
The world tells us that gentleness is foolish, because strength is what really matters.
These are just a few examples of how the wisdom of God is viewed by the world as foolish. And we could find a lot more. That’s because our Faith is countercultural. To us, the values of the world are upside-down, but to the world the teachings of Jesus are foolish and naive.
St. Paul also said,
“God’s foolishness is wiser than
and God’s weakness is stronger than
And that’s what today’s readings are all about. In the first reading today we hear Wisdom described as a welcoming woman. She has set a magnificent table and invited everyone to partake.
This is a classic representation of Wisdom as the Holy Spirit. She is the source of all creativity, all knowledge, all understanding. Anything that is true comes from her: science, art, mathematics, philosophy and all fields of human knowledge.
But wisdom is not just for scholars. We are all called to be wise in the ways of God.
One time a traveller visited a village where a great rabbi had recently died. This rabbi was renown throughout the area as a wise man. The traveller asked on of the rabbi’s disciples: “You rabbi was known to be so wise. What did he give his greatest attention to in life?” The disciple thought for a moment and said, “To whatever he was doing at the moment.”
And that’s where we can be wise in our own lives. Each of us probably knows someone who is wise. And I’ll bet that has nothing to do with education. Maybe it’s a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, whose wisdom shines forth. They are in tune with the things that really matter in life, and that sensitivity has formed them in a special way.
Each of us needs to do the same as we strive toward Wisdom. Wisdom is not navel-gazing or pontificating on obscure points of philosophy. Wisdom is leading our lives in a way that is attuned to the plan God has for each of us, and evaluating our choices in the light of that plan.
Of course we also need to realize that being a fool in the eyes of the world should not involve plain old stupidity! We have plenty of examples in the world today of people who claim to be following the path of God who are just plain stupid.
If we live our lives in true wisdom, will the world recognize us as wise? Probably not. We can assume they’ll think we’re fools. And if we get to that point, we know we’ve made some progress toward true wisdom.
Dorothy Day, the great Catholic prophet who set up homeless ministries in many American Cities in the 20th Century, used to say:
“We acknowledge that we are fools;
and wish that we were more so.”
God’s wisdom is foolishness to the world. We need to be a little more foolish each day to become wise.
Let’s start today. Let’s each ask ourself: What can I do today that’s just plain foolish?