Whom would you consider to be the wisest and most intelligent person that you know? Whom would you consider to the greatest of your family, friends and acquaintances in the Kingdom of Heaven? Of course these two questions come right out of the two readings for today’s Lenten liturgy. Moses tells the children of Israel that the person who keeps God’s statutes and decrees will be regarded as the wisest and most intelligent. Jesus teaches that the person who keeps God’s Law and teaches it will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
When we use the term “wisdom figure,” most of us would identify someone older than ourselves, someone we look up to and revere. Wisdom figures often are pictured as men with white beards. In religious life, provincial ministers are often fond of stationing an older friar or an older nun in houses of formation to give the younger friars and sisters someone who represents success in the religious life. I can think of several friars who have functioned in this way for me. They gained wisdom from practical experience. At the same time, I can remember one such individual who did not like to be regarded as a wisdom figure because, as he put it, it was just a nice way of saying someone was old.
To be sure, both Moses and Jesus would not consider age a requirement for wisdom. According to them, wisdom is gained by accepting God’s will, by obeying God’s commandments, by living exemplary lives. Many younger people could fall into that category.
At the same time, we must acknowledge that each of us goes through a stage in our lives that could be considered rebellious. As we mature, we begin to throw off the shackles or constraints of the expectations of the adults in our lives. We test the waters and reach beyond boundaries. These learning experiences are part of everyone’s life. The parent who says that he/she wants to keep his/her child from making the “same mistakes” is bound to fail. Our best teachers are our mistakes.
When I was still teaching high school, I had a remarkable student who was probably far more intelligent than I was. Yet he never volunteered an answer, never raised his hand in class when I asked a question. One day I asked him why. He answered that he didn’t want to run the risk of embarrassing himself by giving the wrong answer in front of his peers who all considered him to be the brightest of their class. My response to him was simply that I could not teach him if I was not aware of what he didn’t know. He went on to become a teacher himself. I often wonder if he has had a similar experience.
There are those who would teach the commandments by asking us to memorize words and lists of “do’s” and “don’t’s.” However, the best kind of instruction is that of example. The one who knows God’s will and conforms him or herself to it teach in a far better manner than those who ask us to memorize verses and lists of commandments. These are the true wisdom figures, the most intelligent among us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator