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WEEKLY REFLECTIONS

~ Promises, Promises ~


History and present times are abundant with false prophets. They tend to be more accepted and popular than the divinely inspired ones since they tell us what we enjoy hearing. A biblically notable case is that of Hananiah (whose name means "the Lord is gracious") and Jeremiah. Hananiah was the popular one, whose revelations did not come from God. Jeremiah proclaimed the Jewish exile under Babylonian rule would last seventy years, while Hananiah promised it would continue for only two more. Who would you want to believe?

During an assaultive confrontation between the two in public, Jeremiah was the gracious one, telling Hananiah that he would be most happy to have his reputation suffer and be publicly scorned in favor of Hananiah's good news prophesy coming true. Jeremiah ended the encounter by walking away in peace, rather than in anger, self-righteousness or pride in having the last word. Later, in private, Jeremiah informed Hananiah that the latter would be dead within the year, and Hananiah was. That was the test of Old Testament prophets with the consequence of death: Every word of a true prophet of God would be manifested in reality.

One of Jesus' attributes was that of a prophet. Jesus predicted many things that were fulfilled and many still waiting for that day. Some detractors point out that Jesus' declarations of increasing "wars and rumors of wars" is a no-brainer. I could predict with certainty that this time next year there will be no peaceful reprieve from terrorism and international violence. Such is the nature of the human condition and no one would hail me as a prophet this time next year. Should I declare that a year from now the entire world will be at peace and all nations be in loving harmony, many eyebrows would raise and this Reflection in particular would be set aside to shove in my face when the time came to prove me wrong.

Predictions of peace are far more incredible than those of war, plagues, and natural disasters. But Jesus made those as well. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27). Jesus is no prophet unless this promise-prediction manifests itself in those He addressed. Has it? And to what degree?

Here we call upon Wisdom. In Proverbs, wisdom is anthropomorphized into a Person of the female gender. That's also the case in the deuterocanonical Book of Wisdom: "Wisdom shines bright and never grows dim; those who love her and look for her can easily find her. She is quick to make herself known to anyone who desires her. Get up early in the morning to find her, and you will have no problem; you will find her sitting at your door. To fasten your attention on Wisdom is to gain perfect understanding. If you look for her, you will soon find peace of mind, because she will be looking for those who are worthy of her, and she will find you wherever you are. She is kind and will be with you in your every thought" (Wisdom 6:12-16). Is this our experience? And to what degree?

"I pray to God that my thoughts may be worthy of what I have learned, and that I may speak according to his will. He is Wisdom's guide; he gives correction to those who are wise...I learned things that were well known and things that had never been known before, because Wisdom, who gave shape to everything that exists, was my teacher" (Wisdom 7:15, 21-22).

"Wisdom has been my love. I courted her when I was young and wanted to make her my bride. I fell in love with her beauty. She glorifies her noble origin by living with God, the Lord of all, who loves her. She is familiar with God's mysteries and helps determine his course of action. Is it good to have riches in this life? Nothing can make you richer than Wisdom, who makes everything function. Is knowledge a useful thing to have? Nothing is better than Wisdom, who has given shape to everything that exists. Do you love justice? All the virtues are the result of Wisdom's work: justice and courage, self-control and understanding. Life can offer us nothing more valuable than these. Do you want to have wide experience? Wisdom knows the lessons of history and can anticipate the future. She knows how to interpret what people say and how to solve problems. She knows the miracles that God will perform, and how the movements of history will develop. So I decided to take Wisdom home to live with me, because I knew that she would give me good advice and encourage me in times of trouble and grief" (Wisdom 8:2-9).  

Is this not a magnificent poetic description of the Christ? He is "the Truth" and therefore the Wisdom. Do we not long to unite with Wisdom as the bridegroom unites with his bride? She seems elusive in this convoluted world, yet she pursues us, waiting at the door of our hearts as we awaken from sleep. "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God -- that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: 'Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord' " (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Are we self-proclaimed prophets, mistaking our puny understanding of things for Wisdom? Do we think ourselves to be wise, to have things about the world, others and ourselves figured out? Do we make decisions based on such limited understanding we mistake for Wisdom? How wise is the instruction of Christ to refrain from judging others' hearts! Christ has "become for us wisdom from God." How can we distinguish between God's wisdom and our own?

Let's think of someone who we see having some kind of compulsion or obsession. "He has no will power or personal strength," we might observe. Then let's inventory our own obsessions or habitual practices. We should pick a strong one. Let's not drink morning coffee, or any at all; take a different route to work, even if it means leaving earlier; watch no TV; don't listen to our car radio or music CDs while driving; on all our days off, don't do any chores around the house but spend the entire day doing nothing, being physically unproductive. If none of these are compulsions for us, let's pick something, one or more, which are well ingrained in us, and deny ourselves of them for a month. Then let's assess our eagerness to judge others for their lack of will and strength.

We tend to overrate "will." Prideful reliance on our own will is antithetical to the Gospel and the scriptural teachings. We are committing the sin of idolatry (of the self) when we attribute righteousness and good behavior to our will and successful effort rather than "boasting in the Lord" for the blessings have been given to us and denied others.

When we speak to others out of our own wisdom, we may wish to later reflect on the genesis of that wisdom in which we often take pride. Is it the wisdom of our egos or of God, as poetically and wondrously described in the Scriptures? They are quite distinguishable. The wisdom of our egos are often colored with fear-infused predictions and a certainty that we are right and have it all figured out, with a overlay of superiority. In such wisdom, we tend to withdraw loving expressions and compassion, replacing them with condemnation and dictates.

Wisdom, the Christ, enters into our domain with gentleness, unconditional love, a waiting at the door of our hearts, and the provision of dignity no matter how wretched our interior and exterior lives. Christ told us, "Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble." Those of us aspiring to Christlikeness must take heed of that learning, and keep in our esteem and clothe in dignity (not scorn) the least, most despicable of our brothers and sisters no matter what their sins, faults, and compulsions. Perhaps not in the same ways, we, however, are just like them. The compassion and Christlike regard we are able to provide others outside our families (as in prison ministries and missionary endeavors) somehow lose their vigor when we are dealing with intimates. Note that "tough love" approaches are based in secular views, although as appealing as false prophets are. Jesus did not practice "tough love," but rather redemptive love. They sure feel differently!

Christ promised, prophetically, peace in our spirits. He didn't promise happiness in the world. Contrarily, He promised suffering and tribulations. The presence of peace does not need the absence of pain or unhappiness. For too many years my degree of happiness depended upon circumstances and the way people thought of me and treated me, rightfully or wrongfully. Wisdom, whose Source is outside ourselves, invites us into her. Upon our awakening she greets us at our hearts' doors, urging us to remain quiet for a while and listen to her. We may delightfully hear, "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24).

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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