Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Who Is the Truly Wise Person?

Homily on the 6th Sunday of Year C
(Luke 6:17.20-26)
February 14, 2010

Literally taken, philosophy means love of wisdom. The ancient Greeks took philosophy seriously, because they knew of its practical consequences for daily living. When the word philosophy comes to mind, however, many people associate it with being clever, but especially with being able to argue cleverly. Thus, in the Philippines, we have the untranslatable word filosopo, which is often linked to the ability to win an argument in a way that baffles the mind. But this is far from its original meaning. Philosophy is really about asking why. A philosopher is not content with seeing things as they are. Indeed, he is not satisfied with asking why. He even dreams of things not yet tried, and he asks—why not? He goes beyond what ordinary people think of what is reality all about, what is true, good and beautiful. This is one reason why it is important to be a lover of wisdom.

But if we consider how most people think, it may be noticed that they are content with what appears to them, or what other people tell them. They hardly inquire into the whys and wherefores of things. We observe, for example, that what many call good and important revolves around personal achievement and possession. The common question is: what have you got? A pretty or handsome face? A colorful career? Prestige? At the President Estrada Impeachment Trial in 2000-2001, for instance, a lady senator known for dispensing legal wisdom in an inimitable fashion, seemingly browbeat a witness lawyer, Ma. Jasmin Banal, with a suggestion that the normal career path of law graduates from the University of the Philippines (UP) is to choose a high-paying job over a low-paying one. In other words, for the lady senator common sense teaches that UP law graduates are motivated primarily by monetary self-interest in their career. Of course, one wonders if this is true of most professionals. But the fact that we admire people who accumulate wealth, even if the way they acquire it is morally questionable, says much of how we look at the realities of living.

A person who loves real wisdom sees realities differently. While most people admire those who cleverly amass wealth, a lover of wisdom can say with Honore Balzac that behind a great wealth is a crime. Though we look up to those in high places, we can always observe with Lord Acton that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Although one may assume that the normal career path for lawyers is to engage in mercenary activity, we can recognize real wisdom in Ma. Jasmin Banal’s testimony that one can leave a high-paying job and take a low-paying one for a noble purpose. People like Banal can make such decision because they have a better insight into the realities of living and of things. Such a better insight is demonstrated by Jesus in today’s Gospel. To be sure, a man who does not look beyond what appears could be baffled by what the Lord said: “Woe to you rich, for your consolation is now. Woe to you who are full; you shall go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, you shall weep in your grief” (Luke 6:24-25). This is obviously surprising, eve as we ourselves are flabbergasting for kowtowing to wealthy and corrupt politicians, even if we know they take advantage of us, keep us in ignorance and even fool us. This only shows that in comparison with real wisdom, the way we look at realities in life, our own human wisdom, is really foolishness (1 Cor 1:27). So, when we trust our own wisdom, we are fools like “barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth” (Jer 17:6, 1st Reading).

For what is real wisdom, and who is the lover of real wisdom? To be wise is actually to be more than a philosopher; to be wise is to see things as God sees them. God views them differently: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). Of course, the wisdom of God appears foolish. Consider, for example, the following demands: “Go and sell all you have and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21b). “Offer to resistance to injury. When a person strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer the other” (Matt 5:39). “Do not worry about your livelihood, what you are to eat or drink or use for clothing” (Matt 5:25). Surely, anyone who does these things people will think is out of his mind, just as it is unbelievable for a national public official to hear that a young lawyer would leave a good-paying job in favor of a low-paying one. This is not the way the world behaves. Yet, that is the wisdom of God, and a lover of wisdom knows that what the world considers valuable is actually worthless before God. “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” (Eccl 1:1). Ultimately, what is important is trust in God: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream” (Jer 17:7-8a). Such a man is truly wise.

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