Brief synopsis of the readings: Our first reading comes from the Old Testament Book of Proverbs. Here the author speaks of Wisdom who “has built herself a house.” She (Wisdom) prepared a feast and sent her maidservants to gather guests. They were instructed to gather the ignorant. To the fools Wisdom says this: “Come and eat my bread, drink the wine I have prepared! Leave your folly and you will live, walk in the ways of perception.” In the Gospel we continue with John. Last week we read about Jesus being the bread of life: this week we see his disciples’ reaction. Understanding this reinforced his words and said: “This is why I told you that no one could come to me unless the Father allows him,” and then many disciples stopped going with him. Jesus then asked those still gathered if they were going away too. Simon Peter answered with these words: “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.”
We don’t think much about the book of Proverbs; we tend to spend much more time with the book directly before, the book of Psalms. But we shouldn’t discount the wisdom we can find in Proverbs, or the fact that we may know some passages and not know they are from Proverbs.
A little over 30 years ago I was the youth minister of a church in Virginia and we decided to get sweatshirts that would identify us. It had the name of church and one of the members suggested we add Proverbs 17:17. “A friends loves at all times.” We wore those sweatshirts with pride and I’m certain many of us kept it for a number of years.
Today’s reading speaks directly to one idea: Wisdom. All of us who studied for Confirmation over the years can tell you that there are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and Wisdom is one of them. But what is Wisdom and why do we seek it?
There are, of course, thousands of possible definitions. But when I used to hear confessions I often suggested that they pray for wisdom and told them here’s how I thought of wisdom: we are often called to make snap decisions without having time to think about them. Oftentimes we look back on these decisions, some with satisfaction, some with regret. The gift of wisdom gives us the ability to make these snap decisions in ways that we look back on them with satisfaction. Wisdom points our moral compass in the direction of gratitude instead of resentment, in the direction of courage instead of fear.
But today’s reading takes us in a different direction. Here Wisdom is not seen as a goal, but as a pursuer. Wisdom does not sit on her throne and wait for those to approach, but instead sought out the foolish after preparing a feast for them. “Leave your folly and you will live, walk in the ways of perception.”
What could be better? We’re invited to a feast of beasts and wine and from that we gain wisdom. Why would anyone not come to this feast?
Well, we have found that not all choose this. In John’s Gospel we find that some who heard Jesus did not choose Eucharist, but instead argued over his words: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” As a matter of fact early Christians were accused of cannibalism because they ate “the body of Christ.”
And I think there is a link between the Wisdom promised in Proverbs and the Eucharist in John’s Gospel. I think as Christians we can find Wisdom from reception of the Eucharist, at least for those who choose to participate.
Many years ago I was asked to speak to a group of high school students about Eucharist and searched for a way to connect it with their lives. Fortunately, at the same time I was visiting a Catholic nursing home each week and was asked to speak to a group of the residents. I explained that I needed to teach 15 year olds the wisdom of the Eucharist and I found myself in the midst of those who had spent 70, 80, and 90 years receiving the Eucharist. I asked them what I should tell the teenagers.
In the 30 minute discussion I learned that the wise men and women returned to two themes about the Eucharist: strength and community. They told me Eucharist gave them strength in that during some dark times in their lives they recognized that Jesus had their back and they would prevail over whatever darkness covered them.
But they also told me that gathering every week (or sometimes every day) to celebrate and Eucharist bound them together. Sharing the Body of Christ gave them the opportunity to see not only themselves, but each other, with new eyes. I saw in that discussion that wisdom virtually always deals with how we deal with each other.
We don’t speak of wisdom in the same way we speak of intelligence. Certainly there is nothing wrong with intelligence, but the ability to win at Jeopardy or the trivia contest at the local bar does not make us more compassionate or grateful or wise.
A few weeks ago I quoted Pope Francis in his belief that Eucharist isn’t a prize for the perfect but nourishment for the sick. Today I’m going to make a suggestion that may be hard for some of us to accept. When I was a child I was told that after receiving Eucharist I was to put my head down, return to my seat, kneel down, and keep my eyes shut. This was time spent only with God.
But when I became and altar boy holding the paten (the metal plate placed under the person’s chin to catch any crumbs that fell from the host), or when I became a Eucharistic Minister, and later a priest, I found great joy in looking into the person’s eyes as they received the host. And I found it changed things when I wasn’t in that role: I found that when I attended mass, when I received the host and returned to my seat, I didn’t bow my head. Instead I looked around at those who received after me. “Oh, there’s Billy. I remember last year when he was baptized and now he’s walking on his own. I can’t wait until his First Communion.” “It’s good to see Mrs. Johnson. When her husband died she didn’t feel she had the courage to come to church. And while I see the tears in her eyes I’m glad she’s here. I’ll have to make a point of giving her a hug after church.” “Is that Bob and Evelyn? I know they’ve been struggling in their marriage but now they are holding hands. Now that makes my day.”
So here’s my suggestion: next time you’re in church, look around at the people around you. Instead of closing your eyes, open them. Think about the people you see, and what you’re praying for when you see them.
And know that this is bringing you closer to the banquet feast of Wisdom.