The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily Mass, while the headline is chosen to remind me of the world in which I blog.
MILLIONS MARCH FOR ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE
My son, do not refuse a kindness to anyone who begs it,
if it is in your power to perform it.
Do not say to your neighbour, ‘Go away! Come another time!
I will give it you tomorrow’, if you can do it now.
Do not plot harm against your neighbour
as he lives unsuspecting next door.
Do not pick a groundless quarrel with a man
who has done you no harm.
Do not emulate the man of violence,
never model your conduct on his;
for the wilful wrong-doer is abhorrent to the Lord,
who confides only in honest men.
The Lord’s curse lies on the house of the wicked,
but he blesses the home of the virtuous.
He mocks those who mock,
but accords his favour to the humble.
The proverbs are a collection of Israel’s wisdom put together accrding to theme and key words. This section deals with neighbourly living. The Torah tells the believer to love his/her neighbour, but what is the meaning of love? Proverbs is chary of great generalisations and likes to provide examples. So, love means not refusing a kindness, indeed it means offering the kindess now and not later. The shrewdness of this wisdom is immediately evident: it starts to bite into one’s unkindness. A quarrelsome neighbour is a problem in any neighbourhood, so the proverbs forbid plotting, picking a quarrel, violence, and spitefulness.
This wisdom always suggests that goodness is the wise way of life; it is blessed by God, whereas evil is unwise as it is under God’s curse. The book of Job, which this blog examined over the last few weeks, is a an outspoken attack on this view. Sometimes the wicked thrive. However their apparent thriving may be God’s mockery of them; disaster may be just round the corner. The person who walks humbly with God and neighbour is favoured by God. This is the wisdom of John Bunyan, the author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”
He that is down need fear no fall;
he that is low, no pride.
He that is humble ever shall
have God to be his guide.”
This kind of wisdom is utterly at odds with our celebrity culture, in which we are all encouraged to take sefies and display ourselves online, and it’s all the more welcome for that.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘No one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or to put it under a bed. No, he puts it on a lamp-stand so that people may see the light when they come in. For nothing is hidden but it will be made clear, nothing secret but it will be known and brought to light. So take care how you hear; for anyone who has will be given more; from anyone who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.’
Jesus shared the wisdom tradition of his people and ofren speak in short proverbial phrases, as here.There are two issues in this passage:
1. The purpose of God’s word or wisdom.
2. How to receive God’s word or wisdom.
Firstly Jesus teaches that the purpose of God’s wisdom -which comes through prophetic teaching such as his- is to illuminate life. It’s not a secret religious wisdom for initiates only. On the contrary, it shines a light on the hidden corners of human behaviour and reveals the truth. God’s wisdom is not a set of philosphical ideas, it is the unveiling of what human mystification woud like to keep hidden.For example God’s wisdom reveals that loving your neighbour is not a command to limit your obligation to your fellow Jews only, but an unlimited opportunity to be a neighbour to anyone in need, even a hated foreigner, as the Samaritan does in Jesus’ story. Or again, God’s wisdom, channeled by activivists, strips away the defensive rhetoric of those who oppose climate change by simply letting people see the facts. The facts are sacred; God is in the facts.
But to be used it must be heard, understood and applied. Jesus told his disciples that they had to be careful in their listening. They were to be open and receptive, not imagining that a superficial memory of his words would be enough. God’s wisdom would shine a light on the dark corners of their own lives, they would feel exposed, but had to learn to welcome this intrusion if they were to gain anything from what they heard. Jesus warned them that if they did not do this, their store of wisdom would be largely imaginary, and whatever they had gained would be lost. Only a real openness to God’s light would allow them to grow.
Jesus used and added to the wisdom tradition of his people by avoiding secret religious gobbledegook and providing an illumination of human hearts and lives, which could be painful but would be fruitful. This aspect of Jesus’ ministry has not been sufficiently appreciated in the main traditions of Christian thinking, especially in the West.