Who can know God's counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans. For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns. And scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out? Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.(P) The word of the Lord.
You turn man back to dust, saying, "Return, O children of men." For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday, now that it is past, or as a watch of the night. (R)
You make an end of them in their sleep; the next morning they are like the changing grass, which at dawn springs up anew, but by evening wilts and fades. (R)
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart. Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! (R)
Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days. And may the gracious care of the lord our God be ours; prosper the work of our hands for us! Prosper the work of our hands! (R)
I, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus, urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment; I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel, but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary. Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.(P) The word of the Lord.
Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, "If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, "This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish." Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Have you ever made foolish choices or bad decisions that you regretted later? Have you ever said something offensive and now you wish you could take back? Have you ever felt your life is ruined due to one bad decision? I am sure we all face such situations on a daily basis. We make the wrong choices, say the wrong things, go in the wrong directions. According to the Bible, lack of wisdom is the main reason for the poor decision making. When we lack wisdom, we are unable to make even the most basic choices or simplest decisions.
Some people are very smart and intelligent and, yet, are seemingly incapable of managing their daily affairs. Some can dismantle and assemble any modern electrical and electronic products which require careful consideration, but are unable to carry out the simplest tasks of life. Without wisdom we are subject to many painful and devastating effects. We have known many famous and wealthy people whose foolish choices have led to embarrassment, guilt, shame, financial ruin, bankruptcy, divorce, accidents, sicknesses and diseases and even death. Lots of people suffer disgrace and bear permanent scars on their character for one bad decision.
All ancient cultures viewed wisdom to be of paramount importance in life. Numerous myths, legends and tales about wise men or wisdom in the ancient literature attest to its importance. For instance, a Greek proverb says, "A drop of wisdom is better than a sea of gold." A Tibetan proverb stresses, "Knowing just one word of wisdom is like knowing a hundred ordinary words." A Japanese proverb points out, "Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back of an ass." The ancient people of Israel also considered wisdom to be highly valuable.
Solomon, the second son of David and Bathsheba and the third and last king in the ancient United Kingdom of Israel and who was known as the most esteemed man of wisdom in all nations over three thousand years ago, encourages humans to "get wisdom", for he says that "wisdom is the principal thing", Proverbs (4:5,7); and that "it is better to acquire wisdom rather than gold, discernment rather than silver", and that "the one who acquires wisdom loves life", Proverbs (16:16, 19:8).
If wisdom is one of the most important things in life, a question arises: Where can wisdom be found? This is one of the questions Job, a "blameless and upright man" in the Old Testament also had posed long ago, Job (28:12; 1:1). Today's first reading from the Book of Wisdom teaches us that God is the true source of all wisdom.
The Book of Wisdom is a part of the Wisdom Literature in the Bible which includes the Book of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs or the Song of Solomon, and Sirach or Ecclesiasticus. It is believed to have been written for the Jewish community of Alexandria in Egypt less than one hundred years before the birth of Jesus, with the aim of bolstering their faith and confidence, especially of young Jews, who were tempted to abandon their Jewish heritage and embrace the dominant Greek pagan culture. Some Bible experts ascribe the book to a devout Jew who was well acquainted with Greek philosophy and its use in Jewish literature and acknowledge at the same time that the author has put some of his teachings into the mouth of Solomon, the biblical king most famous for his wisdom, whereas others attribute it to Solomon although it does not stem from the time of Solomon.
The whole chapter 9 of the Book of Wisdom contains a beautiful prayer for wisdom and, it is considered the high point of the Book of Wisdom. Similar prayers credited to Solomon are also found in the first Book of Kings (3:6-9) and the second Chronicles (1:8-10). In the previous chapters, the king explained that his entire life has been dedicated to seeking wisdom, Wisdom (7-8), and now, in chapter 9, recalls how he obtained wisdom through prayer. Today's text for the first reading is the third and last part of this prayer.
In the first part of the prayer, Solomon solemnly addressed God, as the God of his ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and others, and as the One who created all things by His powerful word and made human beings by His wisdom, and gave them the assignment to govern the world in "holiness and righteousness", and at the same time, humbly admitted that human beings, including himself, "lack understanding of judgement and laws" and therefore, are in need of God's wisdom, Wisdom (9:1-6).
In the second part of the prayer, Solomon gratefully acknowledged that it was God who had appointed him to be a king and judge over Israel and, moreover, had given him the responsibility of building the House of God in Jerusalem. He also recognized Wisdom as a female figure who was present with God at creation, and is attendant at God's throne and, asked God to send forth this Lady Wisdom from the heavenly throne, for without her he would not be able to "know God's will, be guided by it, and thus be acceptable to God", Wisdom (9:7-12). It is at this point that today's text begins, and it is the last part of the prayer, Wisdom (9:13-18).
Solomon asks, "Who can know God's counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?", Wisdom (9:13). This question has been raised many times in the Scriptures, Isaiah (40:13-14); Proverbs (30:2-4); Sirach (24:28-29); 1 Baruch (3:29-37). We oftentimes also raise similar questions: How can we know what God intends for us? What is God's will for our lives and so on. Solomon points out that no one can know God's intention because our human deliberations, thoughts and plans, including Solomon's own, are timid and uncertain and, our concern for perishable bodies burden our souls and weigh down our minds. Simply put, we, human beings, have limitations; our understanding is weak and earthbound.
And we can never know God's plan fully by our reasoning or designs, because we are so much absorbed in bodily appetites and the material world, Wisdom (9:14-15). Solomon further reminds us that we can hardly guess about the things on earth, and even much of what we know, we can grasp only with difficulty; if so, it is much more difficult to comprehend the heavenly things.
In summing up the prayer, Solomon once again directly asks God, "Who can search them out? Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus, were the paths of those on earth made straight", Wisdom (9:16-18a). In other words, Solomon recognized that only those to whom God has given wisdom through the Holy Spirit sent from on high will know God's counsel, and thereby can stay on the straight paths. Thus, as a wise man, Solomon realized that God is the source of Wisdom and He alone can give the necessary Wisdom for discerning His Will and making good and right decisions.
What is the message for us?
Some decisions in our lives can be made by using our five senses, sight, smell, feeling, taste and sound, and intuition, sometimes referred to as the sixth sense. For example, when you leave your house you see the dark clouds and you say to yourself it's going to rain so you decide to take an umbrella. You don't stand on the street and ask for God's help to decide whether or not to take one, do you? Some people claim that they can tell when rain is coming just by smell.
When you suddenly hear a loud noise that might be from a heavy object falling to the ground, you don't stop to pray to figure out what is happening. You just follow your body's cues and move toward safety. You rely on intuition. If the food in your refrigerator has changed colour and now smells funny, your senses tell you not to eat the spoiled food. In these instances, we use our senses. We also don't need to seek God for every small decision, like what to wear and where to go for dinner and so on.
But when we are in the midst of making major and spiritual decisions, we need to seek God's counsel. A French Jesuit priest and philosopher, named, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says, "We are not human beings having spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having human experience." Yes, indeed. We have been created as spiritual beings, and the spiritual dimension is an inseparable part of our being.
As spiritual beings, we should pray in all situations but we should certainly pray in times of making major decisions such as when we decide on our career, ending or beginning a relationship, choosing a life partner, figuring out where to live, choosing to become a priest or nun and while making spiritual decisions which involve patience, commitment, sacrifices, determination, etc. We should not rely on our senses, understanding or intellect for our major and spiritual decisions, but rather should seek the divine wisdom of God so that we can faithfully follow Him, serve Him, and honour Him in and through our lives.
Wisdom is exceedingly important today as it was over two thousand years ago. We need it more than anything else we need. We need it to govern ourselves and others, whether we are managing a family or leading a community or governing an entire nation. The good news is that God promises to give us the wisdom we need for every decision we have to make. Since it belongs to Him, we must pray to receive it, Job (12:13).
God was the one who granted Solomon wisdom that surpassed all other men on earth in his time, 1 Kings (4:29-34, 10:23). The Prophet Daniel, who was also known for extraordinary wisdom, acknowledged it to be God's gift saying, "I give thanks and praise, because You have given me wisdom and power", Daniel (2:23). In both of these cases wisdom was given in answer to prayer. Like Solomon and Daniel, therefore, we too should feel our need of wisdom, and express it in prayer.
Saint James too encourages any one lacking wisdom to ask of God, and at the same time stresses that when we ask, we must believe and not doubt, James (1:5). Even more forcefully Saint Paul says that godly wisdom is available to us, Christians, in a way that it has never been available before. It is accessible to us in a special way, a way that was not even accessible to the Old Testament people. It is uniquely accessible and available to us through sacraments, sacred traditions and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testament, 1 Corinthians (1:17-2:16).
Let us, therefore, use our time and effort for reading and studying the Scriptures, writings and practices of spiritual traditions and, for devoutly and fully participating in the celebration of the sacraments with the aim of gathering wisdom that we could use in our daily lives. Let us truly acknowledge our need and humble ourselves before God, who alone can give us wisdom that can lead us to a fruitful, honourable, peaceful and Christ-like life.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!