by Father Mike Stubbs
Steps on your career path.” “Skills for professional development.” Our schools tend to emphasize the practical ways to help a person find a job, earn a salary — in short, to make money. All that is well and good, but there is more to life than just that.
Sunday’s first reading, Wis 7:7-11, respects that insight: “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.” The Book of Wisdom presents the person speaking as King Solomon, who was famous for his wisdom. In fact, sometimes the book is titled “The Wisdom of Solomon,” although generally it is believed that a later author centuries after Solomon actually wrote the book. Tradition ascribed the book to King Solomon in order to capitalize on his reputation.
At any rate, the speaker in our reading shows great wisdom in preferring wisdom over earthly treasures: “I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire.” So much for practical skills to make money.
The Book of Wisdom falls into the category of writings in the Old Testament that is called wisdom literature. They include a wide variety, ranging from the Book of Job to the Book of Proverbs. Some of the wisdom provided focuses upon the practical, such as the Book of Proverbs, whose sayings serve as useful guidelines for everyday life: “As the crucible tests silver and the furnace gold, so a man is tested by the praise he receives” (Prv 27: 21). On the other hand, other books — for example the Book of Job and Ecclesiastes — explore philosophical issues, such as the problem of suffering, the purpose of life and the reason for the universe: “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die . . .” (Eccl 3: 1-2).
In any case, these books present wisdom as the means to a fulfilled life. Wisdom can supply us with answers for the nitty-gritty questions on how we should live. Wisdom can help us deal with the larger philosophical questions which have no easy answers.
Above all, these books insist that wisdom is a gift from God. It is not something we achieve on our own. That is the reason for Solomon’s prayer. We should make it our own.