28th Sunday Year B
October 14, 2012
PRAYING FOR PRUDENCE & GETTING A WHOLE LOT MORE!
Just about every six months, some new gadget is introduced into the volatile and highly competitive market. No sooner have many people saved up (or begged or borrowed from others) and bought the prized gizmo, than another one comes out to replace it. The compulsion to shop till you drop is all pervading, all encompassing. One feels compelled, not necessarily to have more, but to have something else, as W. Cavanaugh (2007) wisely writes. It is about having something that no one else has for the meantime, until they find enough courage to charge it once again to their piling debt, and buy the prized object with plastic money, charging it, for all intents and purposes, to one’s uncertain future.
Before the ubiquitous pull of that “something else,” that “something unique” and “something different” that “few” individuals have, prudence, understood as practical wisdom, goes out the window of pragmatism, convenience, and an artificial – if, temporary – boost for one’s situational self-esteem.
Prudence, and, along with it, a train of other virtues, including the capacity to hold oneself back, to restrain oneself and the ever present and ever increasing drive to consume, to have, to possess, to hold and to cherish (until the next new thing comes by!), is sacrificed on the altar of the new demigod called “shopping” or “malling” as the case may be.
The first reading from the Book of Wisdom tells us a different story … The persona would not part with prudence in exchange for “scepter and throne,” “riches,” “priceless gems,” “gold,” “silver,” “health” and “comeliness.”
Ouch! That hurts quite a wee bit! Health is not my best asset right now. I feel a little sick, nursing a strange cold for two days now, that racks my whole body with pain and discomfort and my throat with some lump that takes away what little “comeliness” I might think I have. More like a low-grade flu, it takes away enthusiasm and delight at the ordinary things of daily life. One almost feels the pull of “something new,” “something different,” and “something unique.” When one is in some form of discomfort, one wants the best for oneself … the best food, the best drink, the best care from others who are just as equally needy of the same (if not more) items that life is presumed capable of giving anyone!
The psalmist reinforces what the first reading speaks about. He prays so that “he might number the days aright,” and that he “might gain wisdom of heart.” He prays and pleads for the right stuff, and the right stuff has nothing to do with what we all long for on an average day.
But like as if on cue, the letter writer to the Hebrews throws in for good measure what this wisdom is based on, or consists of, or is a function of – the word of God, that “is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword.”
We now hang on the lips of marketers and commercial gurus. Last year, when Steve Jobs died, the whole consumeristic world grieved at the passing of someone whose every word we believed, for dear life, for dear comfort, and dear convenience, and dear lifestyle that all make us think we are better than others, just because we have a lower case “i” before three other letters that makes the product definitely a “cut above the rest.!
Today, 28th Sunday, we are once more reminded. Today, we are also convicted … you and I … and we face the call to transcend the culture that keeps us enslaved to the pull of the more, the better, the different. And the readings make no mistake about it. They do not mince words by saying that that elusive wisdom does not come from having more, and being different, but by being like Him who was born poor and died poor, and hobnobbed mostly with the poor: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Alleluia verse).
Disappointment was written all over the face of the initially enthusiastic young man who approached the Lord in the gospel. He wanted to cut a dent. He wanted to make waves in society, sort of, asking the Lord that question that was as much a made-up decision to do good, as a tentative attempt at making a shot for “eternal life.”
But the young man’s wisdom fell far short of his too lofty-sounding dream. He got the right noble goal, but missed the earthy, simple, and lowly human means that are necessary if one is to even start a journey towards greatness and holiness. He had the brilliance to aim for eternal life, but lacked the wisdom to part with what ultimately bogged him down. “At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
Being sick and uncomfortable right now, my own short-sighted and earthy “wisdom” leads me to pine for many things. But I cannot deny that the readings convict me and cajole me to aim for higher things. I am sure my readers and hearers would also have their own stories of desire for all sorts of creature comfort, along with the temptation to remain on that level.
The first reading suggests something … We are asked to plead. We are told to pray. And yes … it has nothing to do with the latest iPod now making many people’s mouths water. It has to do with asking for heavenly wisdom. And this strain of wisdom does not make much of what commercial gurus tell us, but what the Word of God leads us to. It comes, though, with a promise that is literally out of this world: “No one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life the age to come.”
And last thing I heard is, eternal life does not last only six months, to be replaced with something new, something different, something unique. It lasts. And though it has no warranty for a year, it guarantees what, in our undiluted wisdom from above, we all can see with the eyes of faith – eternal life. And this means, forever, with no more need for updates, for codecs, and for periodic registrations, for it has to do with the “age to come.”