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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