01Jun 1 June, 2013. Saturday of Week 8

Sir 51:12ff. When I was young, wisdom came to me inner beauty, and until the end I will cultivate her.

Mk 11:27ff. Jesus will explain the source of his authority if others will state their mind about John the Baptist’s ministry.

First Reading: Sir 51:12-20

O Lord, you saved me from destruction and rescued me in time of trouble.
For this reason I thank you and praise you, and I bless the name of the Lord.
While I was still young, before I went on my travels,
I sought wisdom openly in my prayer.
Before the temple I asked for her, and I will search for her until the end.
From the first blossom to the ripening grape my heart delighted in her;
my foot walked on the straight path; from my youth I followed her steps.
I inclined my ear a little and received her, and I found for myself much instruction.
I made progress in her; to him who gives wisdom I will give glory.

For I resolved to live according to wisdom,
and I was zealous for the good, and I shall never be disappointed.
My soul grappled with wisdom, and in my conduct I was strict;
I spread out my hands to the heavens, and lamented my ignorance of her.
I directed my soul to her, and in purity I found her.
With her I gained understanding from the first;
therefore I will never be forsaken.

Gospel: Mark 11:27-33

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” – they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Willing to Grow

Sirach is calm and confident, knowing that fidelity over the years to ancestral wisdom has brought its own kind of peace, and a joyful feeling within his heart. In this way one opens the gate to the fullness of life. But we must be honest with ourselves and with others, and allow God to set the agenda and the questions. God is never unreasonable, but as the prophet Hosea acutely observed neither is it within our grasp to understand him, for “I am God, not man.” The full statement of Hosea reads: My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. I will not give vent to my blazing anger… I am God, not man, the Holy One among you” (Hos 11:8). Now God works within reality, and it requires honesty to relate to Him. Unless we recognize reality, he cannot interact with us, for dishonesty sets up a more formidable barrier to God’s presence with us than many of our worst sins. These can be forgiven by God’s excelling mercy, but only if we are honest enough to admit that there are sins to be forgiven.

Jesus makes a similar demand, when religious leaders, sure of their monopoly on truth and holiness, feel dispensed from being honest and above board. To protect their status they permit themselves to lie or to be devious. In the early church, some people felt so spiritually sanctified that they could ignore normal discipline in their lives, particularly in acts such as eating or physical expressions of love. They were not honest enough to admit the integral unity between body and soul, physical and spiritual.

Sirach writes from Old Testament times before the Holy Trinity was revealed. Yet the same approach to faith is found in both Testaments. From our readings in Sirach these past two weeks we saw how practical and down to earth this teacher was, while every so often flashes of profound mysticism shine through his lines. He affirms that “I will cultivate her until the end,” meaning this wisdom that is God’s gift. “I became preoccupied with her, never weary of extolling her, My hand opened her gate and I came to know her secrets.” If the Scriptures ask us to meditate today on honesty before God and before our neighbour, we are not only led along the path of reality, with our feet firmly on this earth, but we are also being guided into a heavenly mystery, a mystery of transcendent wonder, kindness and eternal life. If we are honest, we pursue this journey with Jesus who will then answer every one of our questions.