‘What choice do you make as central to your life?’ These questions could describe the theme running through our readings this week. Solomon chooses Wisdom; the Word of God reaches into the heart to reveal what lies there. A young man wants the secret of eternal life, but does not like the answer Jesus gives.
The book of Wisdom (sometimes called ‘Wisdom of Solomon’) is probably the last book written in the Old Testament. Because it comes from the Greek-speaking Jewish community, it is not recognized as part of the Jewish or Protestant bibles. It is compatible with other books of the ‘wisdom’ tradition in style and teaching. written as if by King Solomon who was renowned for asking for wisdom, and is therefore the ‘ideal’ whose name is adopted by later writers as the symbolic author of all wisdom books.
Because the word we translate as ‘wisdom’ is in the feminine gender in both Hebrew and Greek, it is personified as a woman and that is why our reading uses the pronoun ‘her’. For the Bible ‘Wisdom’ is seen as a special gift of God, even as an emanation of God’s glory and so the action of Wisdom became compared to Christian ideas of the Holy Spirit. Other descriptions of Wisdom in this book, which explain the high regard of Solomon has for her, are worth reflection: 6:12-22, 7:22-8:1.
The psalm is also in the Wisdom tradition. By thinking of the shortness of human life, the psalmist tells us we will gain the wisdom to see what is truly most valuable. But it is also a plea to God to give us the gift of joy. As with many psalms we have an expression of human sorrow or trouble but the Psalmists turn to God for comfort.
We will be reading from this book of the New Testament for four weeks. The author is unknown but one clearly thoroughly steeped in the Old Testament writing and also in the Hellenistic philosophy of the time. The title given to it may relate to the way the Letter stresses how Jesus is the fulfilment of the expectations in the Jewish heritage.
This is a short selection, yet powerfully conveys the way God knows us beyond all human knowledge, better than we can know ourselves. The Word of God ‘is all that God has revealed through the prophets or through his Son. Since the promises and threats of the message are still “alive” and in force they make it impossible for human beings to avoid declaring their true intention, in other words, they “judge” them.’ (From the notes in The Jerusalem Bible.)
It is a good verse to say before private reading of the Bible, so that we may hear in the words of scripture a message for ourselves today.
Our translation says Jesus was ‘setting out on a journey’ and from now on, Mark’s gospel will be showing him on his way to Jerusalem for the final stages of his life. The man ‘running up’ to Jesus suggests eagerness; he kneels to do him honour and calls him ‘Good Teacher’. In the gospels, people never impress Jesus by flattering words, and his reaction now to turn the words back, asking him to consider what he has said. It was rare for Jews to use this word ‘good’ for people, mostly it was reserved for God. Some have interpreted this as Jesus refusing the idea he is either ‘good’ or ‘God’. But in the gospels Jesus asks questions to get others to think more deeply and that is likely to be the point here. Jesus is shown speaking with a more than human authority as he calls the man to follow him, and that suggests a more than merely human identity.
In the list of the commandments, Jesus has chosen the ones that are about the relationship between humans, and omits the first commandments which relate to God. The man’s response about his own life touches Jesus, who looks at him with love. His response is to offering him the challenge to go further than rule-keeping. How saddened, Mark lets us know, Jesus feels when the man leaves him in sorrow, and chooses to keep his wealth rather than share with the poor.
Jesus exclamation on how hard for the rich find the Kingdom ‘astounds’ his disciples. They are accustomed to the older interpretation that abundance of earthly goods is a sign of God’s favour. Instead, Jesus knows how selfish the rich easily can become. He then goes further and uses the strong comparison of the camel, the largest animal around. His words are ‘hyperbole’, presenting a complete impossibility. Jesus does not do anything to soften his statements, unlike those who argue that not all disciples are called to give up possessions, that riches can be used productively and charitably, and so on. Instead, he leaves the matter as ‘impossible’ but with the assurance that God can manage what is impossible for humanity.
Peter, who early in Mark left his fishing boat and his home, now points out that he and his fellow group of disciples have taken the challenge the rich man refused. Jesus responds to him with warm assurances that their generosity will be met with greater generosity from God, including not only in the future life, but ‘in this time’. The family fellowship promised is the Christian community, and it is notable that it does not mention ‘fathers’ in the listing, suggesting that this new family has God for its Father. Then there is the sudden surprise of ‘with persecutions’, seeming so out of place in a list of rewards! The suffering which not only Jesus but his followers can expect is never far out of Mark’s consciousness in this gospel, nor from the mind of Jesus as Mark presents him to us. Persecution may not seem any consolation for making the sacrifices, although it is the road that Jesus himself is headed for. Perhaps it is a warning, a reminder, that having left all, they may still have more sacrifices to face in this life before the ‘coming age’ when ‘all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well’ in the words of assurance used by Julian of Norwich.