Decades ago, a student at Columbia University was under the impression that he had been assured by the institution that he would be taught wisdom. Feeling that the University had failed him in the matter, he filed a lawsuit against it. Shortly thereafter, the Superior Court dismissed the case. Unhappy with that court’s ruling, however, the student appealed the case.
In its ruling, the presiding judge of the Appellate Court ruled that the lawsuit had been properly dismissed and wrote that:
“These charges were set in a frame of intemperate, if not scurrilous, accusations. We agree with the trial judge that WISDOM is not a subject that can be taught and that no rational person would accept such a claim made by any man or institution.” (Adapted from: The Speaker’s Quote Book, Roy B. Zuck)
Now today, I believe that if this judge were sitting in our midst and just listened to the readings given us by the Church on this 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Wisdom 6:12-16; First Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (4:13-18); Gospel of Matthew 25:1-13), he would likely nod his head in agreement with the instructions he had given many years ago; namely, that wisdom cannot be transmitted by any man or institution. Rather, wisdom is a gift received from God alone. Wisdom is bestowed upon us as a pure gift of love through our relationship with the Lord.
In our own lives, how many of us can discern the difference between a person who is knowledgeable and a person who is wise? I suspect the answer to this question is—all of us!
When I was a young man entering college, I can remember being greeted by a gruff and seasoned Assistant Dean who told me: “Kurt, we’re going to create a schedule of courses that will be helpful to you.” As I sat across the table from him, I remember how he rifled through a list of potential professors while mumbling a yes-or-no followed by: “Most professors aren’t worth a dime, but when you’ve found a good one, you’ve found a diamond-in-the-rough.”
Perhaps we, too, are diamonds-in-the-rough? After all, at our baptism, God sets us upon a journey and calls us to nurture the gifts He has given us. And each day, He reminds us of His willingness to travel with us and guide us in our every step, if only we ask. But in the end, of course, He respects our free will.
So, we ask: Who among us is wise? The answer is crystal clear: “Those who are in relationship with the Lord.”
One of my seminary professors, an accomplished scripture scholar, would, before each class meeting, recite the words of the 1st Psalm. For those of you unfamiliar with that Psalm, it begins with these words:
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
The Psalm then continues with two distinct images. The first is of a tree, planted by streams of water, that prospers. The second describes the wicked as chaff which the wind drives away. At the time, I can remember thinking: “So this is how wisdom may be found. The closer we remain to the Lord, the more he fills us with his Truth and Wisdom.”
The Book of Wisdom reminds us that “…she is readily perceived by those who love her and found by those who seek her.” And further, that she “makes her own rounds, seeking those who love her.”
This, of course, is in stark contrast to many in our society today who declare that “they follow science.” In thinking about this, I must chuckle. After all, the university system was founded by the Catholic Church. Also, many of the greatest scientists throughout history have been practicing Catholics- both priest and lay. Today, if you were to ask any of these great scientists if they followed science, they would surely respond that: “While I am informed by science, I follow the Lord.”
Building upon these thoughts, St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Thessalonians, reminds those who are in relationship with the Lord (the wise) to not worry when tragic winds befall us. The great Apostle reminds us not to grieve, like those with no hope.
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with them those who have fallen asleep.”
All of this helps us make sense of that which is being taught by Jesus in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Maidens.
First, that we live among wise and foolish people, with an emphasis on the latter. And increasingly, our culture may be likened to a trash can filled with things that possess an eternal stench, are opposed to Godliness, and that, in the end, are all passing away. Regarding foolishness, my grandfather used to say: “Enough said.” And a close friend reminds me that: “For those who like that sort of thing, that’s the sort of a thing they like.”
Second, that we need to keep the light of faith alive within us! We need to possess the attitude of the Five Wise Maidens. It is not enough for us to know that we are inside the Kingdom (the Church) waiting for the Bridegroom to arrive. Rather, our attitude should be one of fostering a relationship with the Lord, not simply rendering Him lip service.
And some would call that Wisdom.