First Comes Knowledge, Then Wisdom – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Mark 6:1-6

Learned people were already impressed by the knowledge of this precocious Jesus by the time he was age 12, maybe earlier.[i] Now there is something more. He is age 30 or so, and now people are asking, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him?”[ii] In the New Testament epistles, Jesus is named “the wisdom of God.”[iii] He is called the one “in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.”[iv] Wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is about one’s breadth of information; wisdom is about one’s depth of understanding. Jesus had become wise.

The English words “wisdom” and “vision” come from the same etymological root.   Wisdom is a kind of deep seeing, an “in-sight,” what Saint Paul calls “the enlightening of the eyes of the heart.”[v] Wisdom is not a skill, nor is wisdom learned from a book. Wisdom is a gift from God, a seedling implanted in our soul at birth that needs to be cultivated. Here are two practices that cultivate the gift of wisdom.

For one, it is fully accepting own our life, the life to which we have entrusted. I am not in any way suggesting we be passive victims toward what is inadmissible in life, nor accepting of what must be confronted and changed for our life’s sake or others’. However from the moment of our birth until the moment of our death, there are a growing number of things in each of our lives over which we have no control and cannot change.[vi] All of which provide the alchemy for wisdom. Wisdom comes in saying “yes” to our lives for what is and for what is unchangeable.

And secondly, we may cultivate wisdom by not squandering our mistakes and losses. So much wisdom is gleaned from composting what went bad in life. Deep down inside the dark hole of failure, of wrong-doing (ours and others’), of disappointment, of grief and suffering… deep, deep down in that pit of loss is not emptiness but rather a treasure which is waiting to be mined. The name of the treasure is “wisdom.” The scriptures say wisdom is better than gold.[vii]

What was going on with Jesus during those 20 “hidden” years – between age 12 and age 30 or so – when he was nowhere to be seen? The scriptures do not say. But his growing up must parallel our own. I presume that Jesus was as lost as many of us have been, and for long stretches of time. I presume that Jesus made as many mistakes as I have, as you have, in finding his way into life. I presume that Jesus was as clueless as you were, as I was, in claiming his identity and his destiny. Lots of bumbling. Some days, some years, I think young Jesus was an absolute mess. I don’t impugn sin upon Jesus, but I do presume plenty of mistakes and lots of confusion during Jesus’ hidden years. Jesus, as an adult, was no longer just knowledgeable. Jesus’ knowledge and power were now complemented by wisdom. Wisdom tempers knowledge and power with humility and compassion. Jesus was not intimidating; he was accessible, in quite a lowly way, and he was wise.[viii] Losses in life can yield such great gain.

From the early centuries in the Egyptian desert, Abbess Syncletica, a wise, holy woman, said that “those who want to light a fire first are plagued by smoke, and the smoke drives them to tears, yet finally they get the fire they want.”[ix]Out of the refiner’s fire of life comes wisdom. It is a gift. Wisdom is cultivated over time, and is purified by the crucible of life.

[i] Luke 2:41-52.

[ii] Mark 6:2.

[iii]1 Corinthians 1:24.

[iv] Colossians 2:3.

[v] Ephesians 1:18.

[vi] The great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) prayed: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that you will make all things right, if I surrender to your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next.  Amen.

[vii] Proverbs 16:16.

[viii] “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  “[Jesus] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself” (Philippians 2:7-8).

[ix] Abbess Syncletica, born into a prominent family in Alexandria, Egypt, in the first century, followed the witness of Saint Anthony. She went into the desert to fast, to pray, and to receive the seekers who sought her wisdom.

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7 Comments

  1. Tammy on February 4, 2024 at 14:18

    Thank you so much for filling in the gaps from a theological foundation.
    Sharing of your knowledge and wisdom is a gift to myself and many others.
    May God continue to bless and inspire your work : )

  2. Elizabeth Hardy on February 3, 2024 at 20:36

    Br. Curtis your homily has reached me at a very difficult time. My suffering is alleviated by your words and knowing that deep in my pit of regret and sadness insight, wisdom and refining are brewing. A very wise priest once told me that it is okay to be sad and to sit in that pit until you feel ready to climb out. Your reflection has given me the next step. Thank you so much for this. Elizabeth Hardy+

  3. Kimberly Yetman Dawson on February 3, 2024 at 13:46

    I wonderful teaching that spoke straight to my heart. Thank you Brother Curtis. I couldn’t find a Abbess Syncletica but I did find a Amma Syncletica. Ty.

  4. Kellianne on February 3, 2024 at 08:52

    Such comforting words

  5. Sallie Craig Huber on February 3, 2024 at 08:16

    Thank you Curtis for sharing this wisdom and also, by reading this, for leading me to see the comment from Douglas on February 10 last year. A lovely sign to me this morning!

  6. Douglas H. Huber on February 10, 2023 at 09:36

    Beautiful.

    • Mary Naumann on February 3, 2024 at 09:40

      I couldn’t have said it better!

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