During the school year, a young boy had been in a serious accident and his survival was in jeopardy. Within a few days, his teacher came to visit him in the hospital and was horrified by what she saw: his entire body was covered by terrible burns and he was in a lot of pain. She wanted to turn away and walk out, but instead she sat at his bedside and said: "Tommy, I've come here to teach you about nouns and verbs. That's what we're studying in class now and we don't want you to fall behind." The next afternoon when the teacher returned, a nurse pulled her aside and inquired: "What did you say to that boy yesterday? Our staff was so worried about him; but since your visit yesterday, his entire attitude has improved dramatically." Some time later, the boy admitted he had given up on living but that his teacher's visits had changed that. "After all," he told his family, "my teacher wouldn't come to help me learn nouns and verbs if I was going to die!" A very wise teacher, indeed.
In today's Gospel, Jesus shares his wisdom with a hometown crowd in the Nazareth synagogue; but the townspeople, though recognizing his wisdom, aren't taking it to heart. That's often the problem, isn't it: people listening to Jesus, but not applying his words of wisdom to their lives? That's because the wisdom of Jesus is not the conventional wisdom people are used to. The wisdom of Jesus turns our world upside down!
Conventional wisdom emphasizes success and having success recognized by others. Jesus' wisdom measures not success but faithfulness, as in today's first reading where God calls Ezechiel to be a prophet to the Hebrews. Ezechiel is not called by God to be successful in changing the people's stubbornly held attitudes; he is called simply to be a faithful prophet.
Conventional wisdom tells us not to cry, not to appear weak or admit our vulnerabilities. But in today's second reading, Paul tells us that it is precisely when we are hurting badly and most vulnerable that we are emptied enough of our pride and stubbornness to let God take charge of our lives.
Conventional wisdom says we need wealth, power, prestige to make us happy. Jesus' wisdom says that our happiness relies not on how much we own or how much authority we share, but simply on the health and strength of our relationships.
Conventional wisdom tells us that if we obey the rules and regulations imposed on us by authority, we will be saved. Jesus' wisdom tells us that obeying rules and regulations wont save us, but living a life of loving service to others will.
Conventional wisdom tells us to invite to our Table only those who believe as we believe, do as we do, live as we live, excluding all others. Jesus however invites everyone to his Table to share the Meal because it is at this Table that we come to know and understand each other as a true community.
Conventional wisdom tells us gifts are things we wish for : like winning the lottery : and if we're fortunate enough we might actually get them. Paul reminds us that gifts may come in disguises we don't easily recognize, such as the "handicap" he talks about that keeps his pride in check. We don't know what Paul's handicap was. But I think we all can recognize a similar handicap in our own lives : whatever it may be. Do we ever look upon our handicap as a blessing to keep us focused on what's really important in our lives, or do we see it only as an unwanted and unwarranted curse?
Almost 2000 years ago, the people in a Nazareth synagogue listened to Jesus' wisdom and had the chance to accept it or dismiss it. They dismissed it. Today in this church we listen to Jesus' wisdom and we have the same choice to make. Will we be like the dismissive people in his hometown, or will we take his wisdom to heart and live our lives by it? Conventional wisdom or Jesus' wisdom? The choice is ours! Let's each choose wisely!