THE BOOK OF WISDOM
The Book of Wisdom is another one of those books eliminated by the Protestants during the Reformation. Wisdom compares the fate of the good and the bad in the after life and teaches about the immortality of the soul and bodily resurrection. Today’s reading is taken from a section that tells us the origin of wisdom (God), what it is (source of all uprightness and goodness) and how to get it (prayer). It was originally written in Greek probably during the 150s BC and it portrays the author as King Solomon, as the greatest sage, who is addressing other kings. It reflects Greek thought as well as Jewish thought and probably influenced St. Paul and St. John in their writings. The author’s goal is to safeguard the Jewish traditions and conciliating the gentiles in the hope of converting them.
You might find the Gospel a little troubling with its very strong language of hating family and self. To easy your thinking it is actually an idiomatic (vernacular) term meaning to love less. In other words even our family relations should be subordinate to our commitment to Christ. A good way of understanding this is to think about visiting one of you children who has stopped going to Mass on Sunday. By your going, when you are their guest, you can do what Christ has asked. Discipleship is a serious commitment to complete all the tasks required of us in our Christian living with respect to our vocations.
Philemon is a personal letter of St. Paul. It appears to be an acceptance of slavery. In the time of St. Paul slaves were people who were usually captured in battle or owed a large debt. Why doesn’t St. Paul condemn slavery? Maybe he is convinced the end of the world was near. Maybe it just was not a custom to be challenged (like capital punishment) at this point in history. St. Paul asks Philemon, a friend, to look at Onesimus (The name means “useful.”) in different light – not as a “tool,” but as a brother for he is now a Christian, a brother in Christ. No doubt Philemon is being challenged. How real is his conversion? Can he accept a reformed thief back into his home? Can he now trust him? Can he accept him not as slave, but as a brother in Christ?
Slavery is a violation of the seventh Commandment. Our African slave trade was condemned by Rome since it began, but many of our bishops never paid heed completely to this teaching. People cannot be bought, enslaved, or refused human dignity. Even St. Paul is directing a slave owner to treat his slave as a beloved brother. In our country the evil of slavery evolved into racism, another serious sin. To combat racism first and foremost our hearts must be changed beginning in the family and in the education of our children. This cannot be legislated because the laws against slavery and discrimination exclude the changing of hearts and teach nothing.
Religion is often been used as a tool to exploit racism. We see it manifested in suicide bombings. We cannot call upon the Father of all if we do not honor His image in others. True religion is absolutely incompatible with racist attitudes and practices. While the use of positive discrimination (like quota systems) should be temporary and dropped once its goal is achieved and not allowed for the promotion of incompetent people, we really need to ask ourselves have we really achieved racial equality? These questions keep cropping up in our legal systems and really need to be addressed justly. Let us pray for an honest evaluation so that people do not get hurt and discrimination does not creep back into the country.