15 November 2006

Wisdom, foolishness, and fried fish

St. Albert the Great: Sirach 15.1-6 and Matthew 13.47-52
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Jesus tells the crowds a simple, familiar parable. The Kingdom of heaven is like a big net thrown into the sea. The fishermen collect every sort of fish in their net. When the net is full they haul in the bounty and celebrate the wondrous diversity of God’s creation, the wondrous multiplicity of shapes, sizes, colors, beliefs and worldviews…and…theological perspectives. Wait. Let me read this again...“When the net is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age.” What?! No celebration of diversity?! No affirmation of difference or spiraling hymns to a harvest of tolerance?! Nope. “The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace.” Darn. I was hoping to sing a new church into being. You know, one without dogma or creed.

OK. Enough fun. Jesus tells the crowds this familiar parable and asks them, “Do you understand?” They say, “Yes.” Why does he ask this question? The parable is simple enough. Everyone is invited to the Kingdom. Christ’s sacrifice was made once for all. Some will see and hear the Word preached and come to the Kingdom as guests. Others will see and hear and choose to live forever as they lived in life—without God. So, why the question? Jesus is checking for wisdom. Not just “knowledge of” or “information about” but wisdom—an abiding awareness of the presence of God in the world, an awe before His glory. Sirach tells us that like a mother wisdom nourishes, embraces, cherishes, and teaches. Wisdom inspires, enjoys, makes glad. She exalts the wise and bequeaths an everlasting reputation.

Do you understand? It is not enough to know of God or have a lot of info about God; it is necessary to fear Him, to hold Him in awe, to be nourished by Him, to be embraced, to be cherished, and to be taught. When we are in a proper friendship with God—humility—His wisdom breathes life into us, fills us with joy, and makes us glad to be His children. Then we are ready to learn, ready to thrive in understanding, ready always to move into the world with our faith in front of us—measuring, weighing, accessing, and asking every time: “Is this choice, this decision, this action—is it righteous? Does it help me grow holier, grow closer to God and my brothers and sisters in the kingdom?”

We are wisest when we pray, “Lord, teach me your wisdom.” We are at our most foolish when we pray, “Lord, here’s what you need to understand about your historical context, your cultural and gender biases, your religious limitations, ad nauseum…” We are wisest when we pray, “Lord, open my mouth and fill me with your wisdom and understanding so that I may preach your Word.” We are foolish when we pray, “Lord, I’m opening my mouth, don’t bother filling it with anything, it’s already full of my own opinions and I’ve figured out what’s best for me in my current circumstances. I’ll be preaching those words instead.”
Like a mother God’s wisdom gives the wise food, drink, comfort, and understanding. The foolish get a fiery furnace where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

Do you understand all these things?


  1. Anonymous10:54 PM

    I think you were casting a net into the sea of comments on the Rage Monkey's website and pulled up some readers! ...Nice post. Nice sermon. Dominicans are always good at those -- and at teaching!

  2. Father: Your first paragraph is a classic! I wish it could be read at every paris in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis