The three readings for Sunday September 16 (Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-81, James 3:1-12 and Mark: 8:27-38), reflect on wisdom and truth. In the interest of brevity this commentary will address only the passages from Wisdom and Mark.
The Wisdom of Solomon was almost certainly composed in the 1st century BCE by a person who adopted the persona of Solomon. The Old Testament scholar, Water Bruggemann refers to the exercise as “imaginative remembering”…. as a way of simultaneously valuing and reflecting on the stories of scripture, in this case, particularly Solomon’s life.
The book is part of a dialogue that post-exilic Jews had with the Torah as they tried to figure out how to live simultaneously with the promises of covenant and their contemporary reality as a nation first occupied by the Persians then the Greeks.
Recall that in 1 Kings 3:3-14, the Lord appeared to Solomon … and said, “Ask what I should give you.” Solomon said, “Give your servant understanding to govern your people, to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
This pleased the Lord. God said, “Because you … have not asked for long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but … for understanding to discern what is right, I do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one after you…
The reading for Sunday September 16 personifies Wisdom as a woman in the imaginative reflection of Solomon.
For she is a reflection of eternal light,
a spotless mirror of the working of God,
and an image of his goodness.
(Many statues and images of Wisdom feature a woman holding a light.)
Although she is but one, she can do all things,
and while remaining in herself, she renews all things;
in every generation she passes into holy souls
and makes them friends of God, and prophets;
for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.
The core of this passage is the idea that wisdom orients people to God and makes them God’s friends.
She is more beautiful than the sun,
and excels every constellation of the stars.
Compared with the light she is found to be superior,
for it is succeeded by the night,
but against wisdom evil does not prevail.
She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other,
and she orders all things well.
Divine wisdom delights people by itself. Its value is implicit, not instrumental.
Mark’s gospel deals with a harsher more paradoxical kind of wisdom.
Jesus … asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.
A political analyst might suggest that Jesus didn’t want the disciples to tell anyone because he knew that it would put the Romans on edge and infuriate the Priests, Scribes and Pharisees. According to this approach, Jesus wanted to keep a lower profile so he could go about teaching, healing and driving our daemons with less notice… although his fame had already spread.
Theologically however, Jesus knew that his disciples had a mistaken notion. They held an idea of a David-like messiah who would overthrow oppression and establish a monarchical kingdom. Jesus needed to correct this belief so he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected … and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.
The words about suffering and death were so shocking that the disciples probably did not register what came next: and after three days rise again.
Quite openly shows that Jesus wanted everyone to understand….but they didn’t
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
Peter’s specific motivation is not clear. He may have thought that Jesus was being unduly dramatic: after all Jesus’ popularity was rising in the wake of feeding 4,000, curing many people, raising a dead girl, driving out daemons and his teaching in parables. He may have wanted to protect Jesus, or he may have been concerned about his own hopes for Jesus or about the impact on Jesus’ followers.
But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? … Those who are ashamed of me and of my words … of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father …”
Peter had tried to rebuke Jesus in private but Jesus rebukes Peter quite publicly. Jesus immediately propelled the discussion into one of the great positive paradoxes: losing life to save it. This is followed by a similar, but negative, paradox: winning the whole world but losing one’s life.
The disciples’ minds had probably balked at both the idea of a suffering messiah and denying themselves and taking up their cross to follow Jesus. So Jesus repeated the emphasis on his glory when he said that, the Son of Man…(will) come in the glory of his Father.
Jesus replaces the benign Wisdom of Solomon with a harsher wisdom that would play out in the lives of many of his disciples who would lose their lives for the sake of the gospel.
- One song that pops to mind when I read the first verse of the Wisdom of Solomon… she is a reflection of eternal light…is This Little Light of Mine. What associations does it set off for you?
- What other unconventional wisdom, aside from losing ones’ life to save it, do you find in the gospels?
- If you were in Peter’s shoes how would you react to such a public rebuke as Jesus offered him? What would the next 24 hours have been like?