Saturday, January 21, 2023

Eloquent Wisdom or Christ



This commentary is based on the following readings which were taken from the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 8:23-9:3; Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12-23. 

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,* by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose.    (1 Cor 1:10)  

It seems no one listened to Paul’s appeal since two thousand years later each year we set aside a week for all Christians to pray for unity.

Sadly, these division occur even within our own Catholic faith. Divisions created by people choosing who to follow, as Saint Paul points out in his letter to the Corinthians, some profess “I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’  And we could go on to say, I belong to John Paul II, or Benedict XVI  or Francis and so forth. In reality, we all know and agree, we belong to Christ.

Saint Paul provides the reason for these divisions when he speaks about how attractive someone’s message can be when they preach with eloquent wisdom. Their lofty ideas can draw many followers. Sadly, Paul points out, if the focus is on the wisdom preached, the power of the cross of Christ is emptied.

Let me explain with two stories. The first is about

a motorist who accidentally drove his car into a ditch. Luckily, a local farmer came to help with his big strong horse named Buddy. He hitched Buddy up to the car and yelled, “Pull, Nellie, pull!” Buddy didn’t move. Then the farmer hollered, “Pull, Buster, pull!” Buddy didn’t respond. Once more the farmer commanded, “Pull, Casey, pull!” Nothing. Then the farmer casually said, “Pull, Buddy, pull!” And the horse easily dragged the car out of the ditch.
The motorist grateful but curious asked the farmer why he called his horse by the wrong name three times. The farmer said, “Oh, Buddy is blind and if he thought he was the only one pulling, he wouldn’t even try!”

Funny story but it speaks about our natural human tendency to believe in concepts, as Buddy did, when he accepted the idea he was not alone, without  experiencing a relationship with the other horses.

Saint Paul believed in ideas. Everything changed when he encountered the Risen Christ on the way to Damascus.  He now understood, Jesus is the one who fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah, he is the one that will bring those who walk in darkness into the light.

Consider the story Sigmund Freud once told. A small boy staying with his Aunt and Uncle was put to bed. The boy alone in the dark bedroom called out to his Aunt, “Talk to me. I am frightened in the dark. The aunt replied: ”What good would that do? Yu can’t see me, I am in another room.” The boy said: “That doesn’t matter. When you talk it gets light.”

Saint Paul, through this letter to the Corinthians, is telling us, It doesn’t matter that we can’t see Jesus, his voice gives us light. Unless we seek to hear that voice, as the little boy did, we will simply remain in the darkness, holding on to our opinions.  

Many years later, Pope Benedict would echo Saint Paul’s teaching. On the day he assumed the Chair of Peter he acknowledged: “Apart from Christ the world is living in alienation, in the salt waters of suffering and death, darkness without light.” For Benedict, as he explained in, Deus Cartias est,  “Being a Christian is  not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

Pope Francis seeing the importance of knowing the person of Jesus, rather than getting caught up with eloquent wisdom that can often divide communities, he declared this Sunday as the Word of God Sunday to help people grow with familiarity with sacred scripture and encounter Jesus, who brings us into the light.

There is a little “Buddy” in all of us. It is so much easier and quite comforting to cling to concepts and ideas. Sadly, limiting our faith to lofty ideas leave us blind to the light of Christ. Again as Pope Benedict wrote: “If my desire is solely to be devout, and to perform my religious duties, then my friendship with God will grow arid, It will become loveless.” (Deus Caritas Est, 18)


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