If you try to find the first reading for Mass today (https://universalis.com/L/0/mass.htm) in your Bible, some of you be looking for it for a very, very long time. The reason is that the Book of Wisdom is an ‘apocryphal’ or ‘deuterocanonical’ book. Martin Luther, in his Bible translation of 1534, extracted the apocryphal books from their usual places in the Old Testament, and had them printed at the end of the Old Testament. He maintained that they “are not held equal to the Sacred Scriptures and yet are useful and good for reading.” After that, many Protestant Bibles omitted them completely. However, in 1546 the Council of Trent specifically listed the apocryphal books approved by the Catholic Church as inspired and they are always included in Catholic Bibles.
The Book of Wisdom was written about fifty years before the coming of Christ. Its author, whose name is not known to us, was probably a member of the Jewish community at Alexandria, in Egypt. He wrote in Greek and, at times, he speaks in the person of Solomon, placing his teachings on the lips of the wise king of Hebrew tradition in order to emphasize their value.
Today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom contains a prophecy about the death of the virtuous man – which has been understood by many as being the death of Our Lord. It can be read, despite its early date, as speaking of Jesus and about His different and challenging teaching, pointing out at sins and transgressions of His contemporaries. Although not worded as specific predictions, this passage is a very powerful pointer to the salvation that God had been planning from the beginning of time. The passage, however, doesn’t only point us to Jesus. It also describes aspects of the life of anyone who choose to follow Jesus and who are prosecuted for Christian faith.
The title of the book invites us to ask the question: what is wisdom? St. Thomas Aquinas refers to it as “a right judgment in accord with eternal law” (ST II-II, q. 45, a. 2), as seeing things the way God sees them.
Firstly, there is wisdom that we call practical: it consists in the kind of learning that can only be obtained by experience. As we get older, we accumulate this type of wisdom that enables us grow in the art of living.
Secondly, there is speculative wisdom. It deals with the deep questions about the meaning of life, the significance of suffering, the origin and destiny of man.
Finally, the last – and possibly highest – form of wisdom is the kind that God gives, the revelatory wisdom. When Solomon prays for wisdom, he is not asking for human wisdom, but for a gift of wisdom from God, knowing that only God is infinitely wise, the perfect sage. Nevertheless, God does not hoard His wisdom, but bestows it as a gift. Through this divine wisdom, God grants us a share in His very own eternal wisdom, handing us His pair of spectacles through which to see the world.
Let us pray today for the gift of wisdom in the words of this Jesuit prayer:
In everything we do, O Lord, give us a desire to seek out the truth;
give us a willingness to heed the advice of others;
give us wisdom in reaching decisions;
give us faith to believe in our conclusions;
give us courage to put our ideas to the test;
and, if we prove ourselves wrong, give us the grace to admit it.
By Fr Tomas