Jesus answered the Pharisees: “The kingdom of God does not come by close scrutiny. Neither will they say, “Look! Here it is!” or “There it is!” For look, the kingdom of God is among you.”
Luke 17: 20-21
And she who is one can do all things,
and renews everything while herself perduring;
And passing into holy souls from age to age,
she produces friends of God and prophets.
For there is nought God loves,
be it not one who dwells with Wisdom.
Wisdom 7: 27-8
The Book of Job poses the question: “But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?”(Job 28:12). In today’s gospel Jesus again addresses a question of the Pharisees by pointing out their lack of wisdom, despite the level of their learning. They, insincerely to be sure, ask him when the kingdom of God will come, and he points out to them that it is already among them, but they are unwillingly to recognize it. The reason is that they scrutinize the world through their own lights rather than allowing into their minds and hearts the reality before them. As the Book of Wisdom makes clear, wisdom is not an attainment; it is a gift. She is the very life of God which passes “into holy souls from age to age” and thus provides, for those who will receive her, an abode in which to dwell all the days of one’s life.
Where is the kingdom of God among us today? This is not an abstract or speculative question. We tend to speak far more of “building the kingdom of God,” although this phrase never appears in the gospels, than we do of recognizing and receiving it. How can we know what to build and how to build it, however, if we do not recognize it. Without first recognizing the kingdom of God as it lives among us, we risk making the same mistake as the Pharisees, which is building our own kingdom and serving our own project rather than the kingdom of God.
“Unless the Lord shall build the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1). Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles to our recognition of the kingdom and our own receiving of Wisdom is that of a rampant and anxious functionalism. We “scrutinize” the world almost exclusively in the light of our own compulsions for management and control. From this perspective the world exists to serve our ends rather than our existing to serve God’s. Wisdom “can do all things and renews everything while herself perduring.” She is, thus, an appeal and invitation to us to participate in her work in the world. That requires of us, however, that we empty ourselves of all the manifestations of our desire to be God and in that way receive and be directed by the way of God’s wisdom. To be wise is to forsake the narrow scrutiny of self-centeredness for the open and receptive gaze that arises out of our deepest longings and hearts’ desires. It is to look on life and world with the desire and the open attention of the “watch who waits for the dawn” (Ps. 130:6).
A manifestation of wisdom in the human spirit is the capacity to be surprised. This is what Jesus suggests to the Pharisees in today’s gospel. They cannot recognize the kingdom among them because it comes in a form that they did not expect and so cannot perceive. All of us see the world through the filters of our own experiences and expectations. It requires dedicated effort to open our minds and hearts to what is other than what we expect and readily recognize. What is foreign and unexpected is innately threatening to us. This is why, even today, the kingdom of God may often remain to us hidden, like the yeast in the dough and the small seed in the soil. In this light, it is perhaps vital that, before we inflict our compulsive activity on the world, we take the time to still ourselves and wait upon the wisdom that “can do all things” and that, far beyond anything we can manage, is renewing “the face of the earth.”
The lustful thoughts of our sinful flesh are bad, because they rob the soul of its liking for devotion. The empty joys of the world are worse, because they rob us of the true joy that we should have in the contemplation of heavenly things, which are ministered and taught to us by the angels of heaven. For those who have an inordinate desire to be honored, admired, and served by people here on earth deserve to forgo the honor, admiration, and service of angels in the spiritual contemplation of heaven and heavenly things all their lifetime: that contemplation which is better and more worthy in itself than the delight and consolation of devotion. But the worst spirit of them all I call this spirit of malice, of wrath, and of wickedness, because of this bitterness. And why? Surely because it robs us of the best thing of all: that is, charity, which is God. For whoever lacks peace and restfulness of heart lacks also the living presence and the lovely vision of the high peace of heaven, the good and gracious God, God’s own dear self.
Author of The Cloud of Unknowing, The Discernment of Spirits, 5