Ordinarily I don't blog on Sundays; I try to carve out a little more contemplative space for the Lord's Day. But this morning I noticed some new-for-me connections between the readings. My insights were accelerated when the singer to my left in choir turned to me after the first reading and whispered, "I didn't get that reading at all." If perhaps are were others in the blogosphere with the same reaction, maybe my reflections will be of interest.
The first reading opens with a kind of testimony by a sage who prayed for wisdom and pleaded for prudence. The parallel structure is a poetic device, and is actually an intensification by means of repetition: praying is the same thing as pleading, therefore wisdom is understood as synonymous with prudence. We Western thinkers tend to associate wisdom with the intellect (philosophy, "love of wisdom," seems to be an intellectual exercise), but for biblical people, wisdom was very much a practical virtue: it was what guided you in concrete decision-making. But "wisdom" was a loaded word. A strong tradition associates "wisdom" with God's own creative vision: "Wisdom" (personified) is seen as God's "architect" in creation, or as God's craftsman. So wisdom is intimately associated with God, especially in God's relating beyond the Divine Essence. And to "possess wisdom" is to be in communion with God, so that one's own actions become extensions and manifestations of God's action.
In the Bible, wisdom is personified as a woman. (Probably the word itself is a feminine form.) Along these lines, St. Francis of Assisi personified poverty as a woman, "Lady Poverty." So when the sage speaks of his desire for wisdom, the translation uses the pronoun "her," which can was, in fact, the crux of the singer's confusion this morning.
So the sage tells us just how valuable this wisdom is: more desirable than silver and gold, more lovely than beauty itself. And he is willing to lose everything he has, as long as he can gain this precious treasure.
Here we have a wonderful parallel with the Gospel of the day: the rich young man's question and Jesus' challenge to "Go, sell what you have...and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me."
The tradition of the Church is to recognize Jesus himself as the "power and the wisdom of God," as the "word through whom all things were made," as the one to see whom is to see the Father. Jesus is the Wisdom the sage prayed for and the rich young man desired! But to possess this Wisdom as Way, Truth and Life, you have to "count everything as loss" (to employ St. Paul's autobiographical expression). The sage gave up everything in the pursuit of wisdom, and declared that with wisdom, he had gained more than he risked. But the rich young man, who had everything and yet lacked one thing, went away sad.
The verse before the Gospel gives us the conclusion, in the words of the first Beatitude: Happy are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs.