The Gospel of James tells us, "Wisdom from above is pure first of all; and it produces a harvest of good deeds" (James 3:17).
What is wisdom? Is it the same as reason? Is it a form of intelligence or cleverness? What is it?
Several years ago in Ireland, I was invited to attend a "writers week" and was blessed to rub shoulders with some of the finest writers in the land. I was a teacher then of English language and literature. Writers week was a wonderful opportunity for me to meet and learn from some of the best authors in the field.
One night following a spirited party, when we were walking back to our lodgings, one of the wives of our distinguished writers said to me, laughingly, "We never knew, Father, the difference between intelligence and wisdom until tonight."
"What do you mean?" I asked, hoping to draw her out, just for the fun of it.
She said, "Look at them!" Adding, "These men are the most intelligent men I know, yet they are lacking in wisdom."
Of course, she was commenting on the farcical behaviour of my intelligent friends.
Wisdom is not the same as intelligence. It is central to the Scriptures. Solomon was praised because he prized wisdom above everything — above wealth and power. Socrates was described by Plato in the "Dialogues" as the wisest man that ever lived because he was committed to seeking the truth. Socrates gave his life rather than betray the truth.
Jesus came on earth to witness to the truth; to reveal the wisdom of God to us. Jesus laid down his life for us so that we might enter into the wisdom of God.
St. James asks, "Who is wise and understanding among you?" For St. James, the wise person shows that his "deeds are done with gentleness born of wisdom." This is the wisdom that is from above and is pure. It is not the same as earthly cleverness which is driven by "envy and selfish ambition," and has a negative effect on the community because it leads to "disorder and wickedness of every kind" (James 3:16).
The wisdom of Jesus finds its ultimate expression in the Beatitudes which backtrack to the condition of the human heart, and complete everything we do.
This is the wisdom which is pure," Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God"(Matthew 5:8). The truly wise are pure of heart in their service of God, they are free from all ulterior motives and self-seeking because their minds and hearts are set on pleasing God, not man.
This is the wisdom which is peaceable, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9). Arrogant worldly intelligence often breeds dissension and division. Just listen to the different news slants on television and in the printed media. Wisdom from above always produces harmony and right relationships among people.
This is the wisdom which is gentle," Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). The truly wise person is considerate, knowing when to temper justice with mercy and refusing to Lord it over others.
Wisdom from above improves on the wisdom of man which is the fruit of human reason. It is not closed-minded or narrow for it is born of something higher than reason: faith. The problem with modern society is that wisdom from above is in short supply. We live in a world twisted by conflicts and disputes. Where do these conflicts and disputes come from, if not from within the individual? Conflicts and disputes, the Lord tells us, derive from attitudes of greed, envy and vengeance. Wisdom from above asks us to take a closer look at those attitudes that are ultimately responsible for acts against God and humanity.
Let us pray that we can be counted among those who live and move in the wisdom from above. St. James says, "[I]f any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you" (James 1:5).
Fr. Hugh Duffy holds a Ph.D. from the University of Hull, England. Born in Donegal, Ireland, he was ordained in 1966 in Dublin, Ireland. He is pastor emeritus of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Okeechobee, Florida, where he served for 30 years and built a new Church, debt-free, in 2013. He founded Christian Community Action (CCA) in Ireland that built housing for seniors, a sheltered workshop and bakery for people with disabilities, a community center, and an addiction treatment center. Since 2013 he has traveled across America as an Outreach Priest for Cross Catholic Outreach, Inc. Duffy’s recent book, "What is This Thing Called Faith?" is a collection of meditations with reflections for readers on the sayings of Jesus. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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