Sunday the 23rd: Trinity 17: Proper 20
Wisdom of Solomon 1:16 - 2:1, 12-22. A foray into the Apocryphal* books of the Bible today. The ungodly translate their nihilistic philosophy of life also into an active persecution of those who seek to be loyal to God. The existence of the godly is a profound challenge to everything they stand for.
James 3:13 - 4:3, 7-8a. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you". We return to the understanding of "Wisdom" being a divine entity and in drawing near to God, selfish ambition is put to the sword. The process of sanctification is in turning from Self-centredness to God-centredness.
Mark 9: 30-37. The nihilism of the ungodly spelled out in Wisdom of Solomon is countered by this introduction of a "life after death". This also provides the root material for James' treatise against selfishness.
This first reading from the Apocryphal book called wisdom or sometimes “The wisdom of Solomon” is a powerful piece of writing that articulates the frame of mind of those unconvinced of the existence of God.
Their beliefs are that all life is a chance event and life is short with too much suffering, and when we die we turn to dust and there is no life after death. Therefore they say, we must seize the day for this short life is all there is, enjoy ourselves. As there is no outside arbiter for what is right or wrong – these are just social constructs – we’ll make our own rules.
That nihilistic, purposeless and meaningless approach to life is nothing new. It was alive and well in 100BC when this book was written and it is alive and well now.
But it notes and introduces an extension to that frame of mind. Having a nihilistic philosophy of life is one thing but unfortunately it is then translated into an active persecution of those who do believe in God and try to follow in his way.
Verse 11, left out by the lectionary compilers, says “But let might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless”.
Force and aggression against believers is the result of their philosophy but why?
Well, it seems, from their point of view that the existence of goodness and the Godly is a profound challenge to everything they stand for.
They cannot let it go unnoticed and are moved to persecute God’s people.
Of course it is possible to believe in the apparent purposeless of life and still believe that goodness and kindness are worth pursuing, but this passage does throw up the “problem” of people who continue to believe in God and goodness in this ambiguous world.
Because the godly don’t believe in God purely to gain a prize at the end. That would be no threat at all, if that belief had no concrete consequences for our lives now.
Our lives, how we live them, and what they stand for are evidence that this ambiguous world need not be understood in an entirely negative and pessimistic way.
And for the Christian today, how are we to manifest our belief in a world ruled by God – a life with meaning and purpose?
Certainly we try to submit to the Lordship of Christ, his values and direction which Jesus himself described as a narrow path that few find, and part and parcel of this submission is to seek God’s presence and guidance in prayer. What do we pray for?
In our letter from James one of the things, if not the most important thing we are to pray for Wisdom. Now don’t forget that as I pointed out some weeks ago, that Wisdom is divine and Jesus can be referred to as “Wisdom made flesh” so praying for wisdom is praying that you are continually being formed into the likeness of Christ which is the entire work of a Christian believer.
Wisdom is the only gift that God will always give if it is prayed for.
“You do not have because you do not ask” and in relation to other prayers,
“You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly”.
God will not answer any prayer that emanates from selfish ends and prayer must be made with conviction and wholeheartedness.
Wisdom will create a character of complete integrity and the characteristics that James mentions of purity, peaceableness and mercifulness mirror the teachings of Jesus in the Beatitudes.
So we turn to the gospel to speak about God’s ultimate riposte and challenge to the unbelievers. He sent his son to live among us.
Of course we know the story. He too was rejected and killed.
Rejected and killed yes, but Jesus also refers to what will happen on the third day.
Speaking about himself in the third person “he will rise again”
Son of man has at least two meanings. It means that Jesus is identifying himself as the Son of man “coming on the clouds of heaven, to whom all dominion, glory and a kingdom was given” (Daniel 7:13)
But this phrase also means simply “a human being”.
Human beings are raised to eternal life. Eternal life, understood properly is not only final resurrection from the dead but is a quality of life in the here and now.
Even after the resurrection of Jesus and the testimony of the apostles and all the eye witnesses to the fact, those old doubts, those old reservations, about the nature, power and even existence of God rear their head even amongst the Christian churches who begin to question the whole nature of life and the possibility of eternal life.
Christianity depends totally on faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and what that means for us.
To the doubters in Corinth Paul writes;
1 Corinthians 15:12-19
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope[a] in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
That pearl of great price, the knowledge that God exists, is powerful, loves us enough to send his son to die for us, and raised him and will raise us is the antidote to where we started in the “Wisdom of Solomon”
Our lives are written against an infinite horizon. We have meaning and purpose. Created in love to reflect God’s love and truth, and the mission to tell others that they too are loved, have meaning and purpose and have eternal life.