BEFORE THE CROSS | Jesus’ mastery of context sets the stage for wisdom

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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The readings for this week teach us about wisdom. The book of Sirach describes wisdom as an attribute of God. The Gospels for the week show us the wisdom of Jesus. Let's take a deeper look at the connections between wisdom, Jesus and us.

Sirach's descriptions of wisdom foreshadow the attributes of the Word in the Gospel of John. Wisdom is created by the Lord from all eternity (John 1:1-2). Wisdom grasps the depths of all creation (John 1:3-4, 10). Wisdom is constantly being poured forth upon human beings (John 1:9). The attributes of wisdom in the Old Testament don't perfectly match the attributes of Jesus as the eternal Son of the Father. But Sirach's description certainly points in the direction of the New Testament and prepares the ground for the fullness of revelation in Jesus.

Sirach also describes wisdom as a quality of human actions — when God pours forth His eternal wisdom on human beings. This also points toward the New Testament. Wisdom belongs to God, but He shares it generously with humanity. Jesus is God, and He shares Himself generously with us.

The profoundest teachings on wisdom this week, however, come from the Gospels.

Jesus notices a crowd gathering and intervenes before the situation gets out of hand. That's wisdom in action. Jesus knows that a certain kind of demon only comes out through prayer. That's wisdom in discernment. Jesus knows when His disciples are ready to take the next step in knowing what it means for Him to be the Messiah — that He will have to suffer — and He knows that they need time away from other people in order to learn this. That's wisdom in teaching. In all of these episodes Jesus' wisdom shows itself in perfect mastery of the context: He knows exactly what the situation needs, and He provides it.

Awareness of context is abundantly evident when the Pharisees ask Jesus about marriage and divorce. They're testing Him, and He knows it. Their motivation is part of the context. Jesus asks them what Moses commanded. They recognize Moses as an authority, and He knows it. Their presupposition is part of the context. The Pharisees relate what Moses told them: "Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her." But Jesus takes them the next step, explaining the context of that command: "Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment." Finally, Jesus invites them to take one more step, to return to the context of God's original plan for the relationship between husband and wife.

But here we have to pause. If the context of Moses' command was the hardness of people's hearts, then Jesus isn't going to restore God's original plan without also offering people the heart to receive that plan. And that's just the point. Jesus was inviting the Pharisees — and us — to live in a new context in which God's original plan for our relations can be restored.

Jesus was a master of context. His words and deeds always were suited perfectly to the situation. How about us? Do we follow Jesus and pay attention to context when we consider how to speak and act? Do our words and deeds reflect the wisdom of Jesus?

Let's pray that we might be filled with heavenly wisdom. May our words and deeds be perfectly suited to draw people closer to Jesus in every situation. 

APPOINTMENTS:

Deacon Donald L. Driscoll, a permanent deacon assisting the parochial administrator of Our Lady of the Holy Cross Parish in St. Louis, is granted retirement status, effective March 1, 2017.

Deacon Stephen L. Murray, a permanent deacon assisting the pastor of All Saints Parish in University City, is assigned to assist the pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish in Webster Groves, effective Feb. 27, 2017.

Deacon Dennis K. Stovall, a permanent deacon assisting the pastor of St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Ellisville, is appointed to assist the pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in St. Louis. He continues in his assignment of assisting physically disabled people and the dental mission, effective March 31, 2017.

Deacon John Weatherholt, a permanent deacon assisting the pastor of St. Paul Parish in Fenton, is granted retirement status, effective March 1, 2017. 

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