The Book of Wisdom at Its Finest

Two of the best passages from the Book of Wisdom have been used in Mass recently.

(1) On Sunday, it was Wisdom 11:22-12:2,

Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O LORD and lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things!
Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little,
warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing,
that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!

The passage flatly refutes double-predestination Calvinism,  because it shows that God reached out to offer salvation even to those who ultimate rejected it, that He willed that they should turn away from sin and be saved, but that they thwarted His Desires by their free will.  Now, Calvinists don’t believe that the Book of Wisdom is Scriptural, but the earliest Christians did.  Surely, this suggests (if nothing else) that early Christians didn’t view Wisdom as contradicting the Gospel, which suggests that they didn’t read it like Calvinists do today.  Perhaps more importantly, it’s just an incredibly beautiful passage, both of the grandeur of God in relation to Creation, and in the immensity of His Love for insignificant us.

(2) Today’s First Reading was Wisdom 3:1-9,

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.

In the time of their visitation they shall shine
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones
and his care is with his elect.

So the faithful departed have gone (or will go) through purgation, like gold in the furnance, removing the impurities of sin, but they won’t go through the torments of Hell, nor are they annihilated.. Again, the theological depth of this passage is jaw-dropping.  Remember that this is from the Old Testament, yet the author evinces a profound understanding of the afterlife.

(3) Since I’m on the subject, here’s Wisdom 2:12-22, quoting “the wicked”:

Let us beset the Just One, because He is obnoxious to us;
He sets himself against our doings,
Reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God and styles Himself a Child of the LORD.
To us He is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see Him is a hardship for us,
Because His life is not like other men’s, and different are His ways.
He judges us debased; He holds aloof from our paths as from things impure. He calls blest the destiny of the just
and boasts that God is His Father.
Let us see whether His words be true;
let us find out what will happen to Him.

For if the Just One be the Son of God, He will defend Him
and deliver Him from the hand of his foes.

With revilement and torture let us put Him to the test
that we may have proof of His gentleness and try His patience.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death;
for according to his own words, God will take care of Him.”

These were their thoughts, but they erred;
for their wickedness blinded them,
And they knew not the hidden counsels of God;
neither did they count on a recompense of holiness
nor discern the innocent souls’ reward.

This is the passage from the Book of Wisdom that seals its status as Scripture for a lot of Christians willing to consider the possibility, because it’s so blatantly prophetic of Christ.  Just look at Matthew 27:41-43, in which Jesus is hung in shame on the Cross:

“Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked Him and said,  “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. So He is the king of Israel! Let Him come down from the Cross now, and we will believe in Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He wants Him. For He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’

Philippians 2:8 makes clear that this was a uniquely shameful death. And the sort of things that so enraged these men, enough to make them want to see Jesus die in this way, were things He said, like claiming special knowledge of the Father, as Matthew 11:27 tells us:

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

And of course, His condemnation of the Pharisees breaking even the Mosaic Law they claimed to be justified by (see Matthew 15:3-6).  Are we to seriously assume that this passage simply happened to correctly guess that the Messiah would be the Son of God, that He’d be sentenced to a shameful death, and then taunted in the precise way that the Pharisees mocked Him?  Look throughout the rest of the Old Testament.  Are there any descriptions of this happening to any of the Prophets?  I mention this because this is a prophesy that describes Christ, and only Christ.  Even the title given, “the Just One” is the title given to Christ in 1 John 2:1.

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