Homily for the 6th Sunday of the Year

11 – 12 February 2023, 6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

A Wisdom from Above

The world seems be under the grip of dad jokes; I’m not very good at them – that’s more a Father Grant thing. I wonder if you call a dad joke, told by a priest, a “Father joke”? Maybe that was one after all? Worse than dad jokes, though, are mom comments. You likely know the type – after running around the house, playing with a ball, or leaping from the stairs, mom steps back for a moment and, sometimes calmly says, “If you don’t want to listen, then you must feel”. These words, somehow, are emblazoned on the mind forever.

But they contain a truth. Experience is a good teacher. Both the First and Second Readings today speak about the wisdom, and what can be learned by experience or, more mystically, what is only known because God Himself has revealed it to us. Sirach is quite blunt: there are good choices and evil ones, and we have freedom to choose. God knows everything, the writer tells us, and He has given no one the permission to sin. And if you don’t listen, you’ll feel (he doesn’t say this last bit, but we can’t help thinking he might have done).

So, often, the first source of growing in knowledge, wisdom and understanding is our own experience. We rely on what we’ve sensed, or taken in, or known instinctively. This isn’t because it’s the most important source; it’s just often the way that we operate. In this way, we can think about life in particular frameworks, proposed to us by the great intellectuals of the past, whose histories of ideas – their philosophies – stand as the basis of (Western) thought. We’re not only relying on our own experiences, then – both good and ill – but on the experiences of others throughout history. A collection of these we might find in the anthologies of the English Jesuit Copplestone, the Dutch professor Delfgaauw or the American teacher McInerny. It’s good for us to be versed in the intellectual tradition. It’s certainly is part of the formation of every priest; a good priest might even return to it from time to time.

But then this philosophy gives way to theology in a wonderful intellectual deference. It’s not as though the thoughts of man are suddenly redundant or contrary to the Gospel: in Christ Jesus, the mindful meanders of man are illuminated; the complexity of human thought is given a clear goal, a direction, in the person of the God-Man, Who has reconciled all things, even our ancient philosophy, to Himself.

When Saint Paul encountered the Corinthians, he must have been flabbergasted at how they conducted themselves. Corinth was a seat of high philosophy and roaring trade. The people there had been steeped in the intellectual tradition, the inheritors of it at the source, for millennia; they clearly were business savvy, inviting the world to leave their money on the isthmus. And yet, somehow breaching the two, they lived like animals, with questionable moral behaviour. Not only were there accusations of unethical business dealings, but the Corinthians had entangled themselves in all sorts of sexual and relational immortality. It didn’t stop there: amongst these not-ignorant people were some of the members of the Corinthian Church, standing accused of liturgical abuses, of sins against the Holy Eucharist.

Saint Paul is flabbergasted. How is it possible, he might have said, that a people supposedly so “enlightened” can live in such a contrary way? As a father, a spiritual one, he has to wonder how he could try to convince them that their way of living isn’t worthy. He could use clever-sounding words, or some practical wisdom, a deep savvy, to draw them to the truth. But would it save them, ennoble them, or give them peace? It’s not words he chooses, but the Word, made flesh, Who willed to die for sinners. “We preach Christ Crucified, the power of God and the wisdom of God”. That is, God – Who is the source of all the intellectual prowess and business savvy at a supernatural level – has done something so marvellous, so contrary to the warped logic of the world: He has chosen to die that you can live. And maybe you should live for Him. This isn’t a worldly wisdom; it’s a “secret and hidden wisdom of God”, the Second Reading calls it.

And it’s present in Jesus, Who reveals it in today’s Gospel.

What Our Lord thinks goes beyond what simple human thinking could propose. He is teaching the thought of God, which is no mere philosophy. It’s not just a “philosophy of life”, but an exposition of the Divine Life, which goes beyond simple (or even complex) human thought. It doesn’t only evaluate something for what it is, and what it could be; the power of the Gospel, the power of God, of the Cross, brings transformation, change and true peace.

This is borne out in Jesus’ teaching on the love of enemies. Simple human ideas would ask us to treat our enemies very differently; some philosophical or psychological models might impose a path that is more sterile, self-preserving, too pragmatic or even self-centred. But what does the Lord teach? He teaches us to love, seeking what is true, good, beautiful and eternal. He combines practical wisdom with the care of the eternal soul, urging us to be better, to be holy, to be more like God. It not only brings about right thinking and understanding, but leads us to think like God Himself. And this affects our “philosophy”: it rectifies, purifies, enlightens and saves it. It asks us, sometimes, to abandon what we think is best, or what our experience has caused us to suffer: it urges us to love. And Who urges it but Love Himself, Who would lay down His life for us.

Where do we stand?

From a purely human perspective, it is good to receive good academic formation in the history of ideas, especially in the philosophical tradition. Read the big names and study the history of ideas. But even our study of these things invites us to encounter Christ, Who is Divine Wisdom incarnate. He has not only inhabited the good ideas of the world, and inspired them, but has exceeded them in His love. And so, in addition to this intellectual enterprise, let’s be immersed in what the Gospel commands: in it, we will find practical wisdom, far greater than the world could propose. This is because it not only contains thoughts about what it means to be a right-thinking men; it reveals to us the God-Man, Whose Own life, death and resurrection allows us to be men of holiness. It’s not only about clever sounding words, which do delight the heart; it’s about the Word made flesh – the One Who made the heart, and for Whom the heart is made, and Who excites our hearts at His Presence of this altar. Let’s ask Him to change us, to make us more loving and to make us more like Him. Amen.