Thursday, December 15, 2011

What Appears Foolish to Men Shows the Wisdom of God

An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B, Luke 1:26-38, December 18, 2011

A FEW WEEKS after the Marcoses were unseated in February 1986, many books were written about the four-day Edsa Revolution. One of the interesting features of the event, as narrated in several books, is that the outcome was far cry from what many actors of the event hoped to transpire, and the scenario many political analysts thought would take place. As is well known, Juan Ponce Enrile, together with Gregorio Honasan, Red Kapunan and the RAM had their own plans of what to do with the Marcos machinery. They had their own timetable. Of course, their plan failed, for what came off was People Power—a scenario which the communists and military adventurers never thought of. Indeed, even when the Edsa event continued to unfold, many political analysts came to the conclusion that it was highly probable that the communists would profit in the end. But they were wrong. No one thought of it—but People Power was born. And for a man of faith, this illustrates what the wisdom of God means (Rom 16:27). And it came as a surprise.

The First Reading and the Gospel can be seen in this perspective. Both focus on the wisdom of God. Of this wisdom, Isaiah puts it beautifully: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above yours, and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isa 55:1-9). In the first half (1 Sam 7:1-5) of the Old Testament reading today, we are told that David wanted to build a house for the Lord. Realizing that he was living in a house of cedar while the Ark of the Covenant dwelt in a tent, the King proposed to build a temple for God (2 Sam 7:2). No doubt, it was a wise move on the part of David—even Nathan the prophet thought so. But his intention, however noble, failed, because God had a different plan in his mind; it was his son, Solomon, who would do the building (2 Sam 7:13-14). God had his own wisdom which David never anticipated. On the other hand, God’s plan for David—which the latter never envisaged, however wise he was—was to maintain the dynasty of David in perpetuity: “Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall stand firm for ever” (2 Sam 7:16).

In today’s Gospel, we are furnished with another example of God’s wisdom at work. In Luke’s account of the transcendental origin of Jesus, Mary most likely thought that her marriage to Joseph would be no different from any normal marriage between a man and a woman. But God had a different mind about their marriage: it would be his vehicle in the incarnation of God. When the archangel, Gabriel, told her of God’s plan, Mary raised an objection: “How can this be since I do not know man?” (Luke 1:34). Obviously, Mary thought that she could not conceive God’s Son because no one had ever touched her. But the angel replied that her conception would have no precedent in human history, because the Holy Spirit would overshadow her. To conceive without having sexual intercourse is an impossibility; but the angel assured her that “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). If the birth of Jesus did not follow the human course of things, it is because, in the words of Edward Hoskyns, it is “a dagger thrust into the weft of human history.” God’s ways are simply different from man’s, his wisdom is beyond human contingencies and plans.

This has a profound lesson for us. We are now in the age of computers which ushered in a culture of precision. In this culture, everything seems to be predictable. Almost nothing is left to chance. Some even hardly tolerate human error. There seems to be a common belief that we are in control of the future. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that we depend on our own wisdom so much that we hardly conceive that God may have a different plan for us. Yet, our experience shows that how the Church grows and develops, for example, does not reflect our own human wisdom. Very frequently, ours does not succeed. It happens many times that our own wisdom fails, and eventually we realize that in our failure God’s wisdom is manifested. And this brings us to the point. It is important that in our lives, we give space for God. We have to agree to his own plan, and this often requires that we scrape out our own, however well-laid. Like Mary, we have to say “yes” to his will (Luke 1:39), even when this is opaque to our understanding and goes beyond our own wisdom. After all, he made the Number One enemy of the early Christians the Number One “propagandist” of Jesus Christ—St Paul. The early Christians had a view of Paul that never coincided with God’s, but it is always God’s wisdom that prevails in the end. We might be wise, but God is far wiser than we are. What appears as wisdom to man, is sometimes shown as foolishness before God.*

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