July 26; 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year A

17th OT2 19 20Seek Wisdom not just Knowledge

We are bombarded with information like never before, due to the internet. Research is made easy with Google search engine and Wikipedia. But the real setback and downside of this informational deluge is that we are unable to separate the wheat from the darnel, the true from the false. We have more information than we can ever process at our finger-tips, but little wisdom. In fact, wisdom can be shattered by too much information.

That begs the question, what is wisdom? In Greek, the New Testament word for wisdom is ‘Sophia’. To be wise to a Greek meant to understand a concept, to analyse something. That's not the word in Hebrew. The word in Hebrew is ‘chakam’. The concept of wisdom in the Old Testament is a form of practical knowledge – How do we make correct choices in life? Biblical wisdom is not simply factual knowledge or information. Neither is it some clever opinion. Rather, it is being able to see things as they really are and make the right decisions. Wisdom helps us to distinguish Truth from falsehood, the good from the bad. This was the kind of wisdom that King Solomon had asked for – the ability to grasp the mind of God, His Laws and to distinguish good from evil. Strangely, this is the same knowledge coveted by Adam and Eve, and which they attempted to steal from Eden. They failed to recognise that they already had this gift at their disposal. They only had to listen to God and trust Him. God would tell them what is good and what is evil. Such wisdom was God’s to give, not for them to steal.

The two parables in today’s gospel, the parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, give us several insights into Wisdom. First, the parables highlight the incomparable value of Wisdom. A single-hearted response is demanded of the one who finds the Kingdom of Heaven. Both protagonists didn’t haggle over price. They didn’t complain about the cost. On the contrary, they made their transactions joyfully, because what both men stood to gain was so tremendous that it made any cost, any sacrifice, insignificant in comparison. In the eyes of the world, their actions would have been regarded as foolishness. Only Wisdom would show that they had made the most significant investment of their lives.

Secondly, the parables teach us that Wisdom is never easily accessible. In both parables, the treasures are hidden, they are not easily accessible, they are sacred. In today’s society, the idea of mystery and ‘hiddenness’ is often associated with elitism. Most people demand accessibility. The problem is that accessibility is often mistaken for banality. In our effort to ensure accessibility to all and sundry, we have chosen to lower the bar that was set by our Lord Himself. Our catechism becomes dumbed-down, our liturgies are replaced with entertainment, our homilies become nothing more than stating the obvious. On the contrary, our faith and worship seek to express the mystery of the holy and the eternal, and not just what is current and transitory. When a mystery becomes totally comprehensible, it ceases to be sacred. When a treasure is no longer hidden, it ceases to have value. Familiarity breeds contempt.

The parables also remind us that the most valuable thing in life demands sacrifice. Both of these parables involve men who had to make great sacrifices, selling everything that they had to obtain their treasures. Salvation comes at a heavy cost; it came at the cost of our Saviour’s life. Unfortunately, our generation is a generation that wants everything easy. We want to enjoy all the blessings of the kingdom, but we don’t want to do anything, we don’t want to give anything, and we certainly don’t want to sacrifice anything. Even though great sacrifice is required, it is never a burden. Holy Wisdom will help us appreciate that the Kingdom is always a source of Joy. Notice the joy of the discovery, as well as the joy of parting with one’s possessions to acquire that treasure or the pearl of great price. These men do not just sell everything they have, but they do so with exuberant joy. There is no regret in their actions. Perhaps the real test of a disciple’s commitment is not so much whether he is willing to make sacrifices for our Lord, but whether he is able to make those sacrifices joyfully, without complaining.

Finally, Wisdom is not just a philosophical concept nor practical knowledge on how we should live our lives. In fact, Scriptures would eventually speak of wisdom as a personified attribute of God. Wisdom is a person. Christ Himself is the “power and wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24). Christ is the Perfection and the Incarnation of Wisdom. St Irenaeus reminds us that Christ himself “is the treasure hidden within Scriptures” and according to St Augustine, He is the pearl of great price. That is why for those who have discovered that He is their true treasure and the pearl of incomparable price, other things in this world cease to have value in their eyes. As St Paul puts it, “because of the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, I count everything else as loss. For Him I have accepted the loss of all other things, and look on them all as filth if only I can gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)