In Wisdom is a spirit / intelligent, holy, unique, / Manifold, subtle, agile, / clear, unstained, certain, / Never harmful, loving the good, keen, / unhampered, beneficent, kindly, / Firm, secure, tranquil, / all-powerful, all-seeing, / And pervading all spirits, / though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle.Wisdom 7: 22-3
Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he said in reply, “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.”Luke 17:20-21
To hear Jesus’ teaching today of the presence among us of the Kingdom of God takes on a special nuance of meaning in light of our recent reading from the Book of Wisdom. According to the Book of Wisdom all creation springs from and inheres in Divine Wisdom. We are called “to be truly wise” by living in and out of the Wisdom that is our source and sustenance.
When we ponder this in the light of Jesus’ words today, we realize that this truth of who we are and are called to be is manifested both within and among us. Jesus tells the Pharisees that the kingdom of God is not an object that can be observed but a phenomenon that is experienced among us. In other words, our access to wisdom is both a quality of presence to ourselves and to each other.
This is what the scripture tells us, but, in truth, wisdom does not seem all that prevalent in day to day life. For the most part, it seems as if we live in a highly relativistic world in which the supreme value is not truth or wisdom but rather self-promotion. In today’s Office of Readings we are offered a homily from the second century. Its theme is the scripture quote: “My name is constantly blasphemed by unbelievers.” The author asks what causes the Lord’s name to be blasphemed. The answer offered is that we, who claim to be believers, “say one thing and do another.” He says that when unbelievers hear Jesus say “It is no credit to you if you love those who love you, but only if you love your enemies, and those who hate you,” they are filled with admiration. But, when they see that we believers fail not only to love our enemies but even those who love us, “they laugh us to scorn.”
To the extent that the kingdom of God is among us, then it can only be experienced relationally. Unbridled capitalistic culture, as we live it in the United States, is in a crisis of relationship, however. The reason is because when all value is monetized, there is no place for the time, space, and effort that relationship requires.
In today’s New York Times there is an essay by conservative writer Gracy Olmstead. In this piece she is challenging the proposal of Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris to extend the school day to ten hours in order to accommodate the need for child care of so many parents who must both work full time jobs. Politics of the issue aside, to the degree that is possible, Olmstead begins to raise some important cultural-spiritual questions concerning our values, and the meaning and place of work. When Microsoft Japan tested a 4 day work week, productivity rose by over 40%. Next year Finland is to implement a law that will give a majority of the working people of the country the right to choose when and where they work for half of their weekly working hours. These alternative possibilities arise because of the taking into account of values other than profit, values that cannot be grasped through the lens of monetization.
Obviously our difficulty in incarnating an ethic of love is not peculiarly contemporary. In the second century, there was also clearly the struggle of living Jesus’ teaching. There was not only a difficulty in practicing the most radical aspect of the teaching, loving one’s enemies, but even in loving those who love us. When we fail to love each other, Jesus is blasphemed and there is no witness to the reality of the kingdom of God among us. It is universally difficult to love because love requires an amount of time and effort that can only be given if we truly appreciate its value.
If we take the words of Jesus to heart, that the kingdom of God is among us, then doing God’s will in the world requires us to relate to each other. The kingdom is not merely “in” each of us separately; it is alive and active in what is among and between us. We are more than the sum of our individual parts. But to be that more, to be the “Body of Christ” in the world, demands that we be in relationship to each other.
In my experience, we expend far more energy in avoiding relating and loving than in loving each other. We call ourselves communities, but we do not even really know each other. We see ourselves as ministers of the kingdom of God, but we think that is done alone. We say we long to be the hands, feet, and heart of Christ, but we have no time to learn how to love and be loved. Why do we refuse to spend the time that love requires? In my own experience, it is because I fear losing something in the process. This is where our cultural pulsations come in. it is not a person’s humanity, their Divine image within, that we tend to value. It is rather their productivity and capacity for wealth accumulation. Even when this does not take the most crass of forms, like in religious settings, it remains our measure of each other’s worth. In this way we relate only by manipulation rather than love.
As central as it is in our lives, love does not come easily to us. We must learn how to love ‘all our life long.” What we value can be seen in how we spend our time. Perhaps we can begin to practice by reflecting on how we spend our time each day, and what we mostly think about. Are the lives and concerns of others taking up more and more of our thoughts as the days pass?
An obsession with hurry has been so worked into our social system that we scarcely notice we do not have time to love. Everywhere the slogan is “Hurry, hurry, hurry.” Yet to be aware of the needs of others, to spend time with others, to speak and act with thoughtfulness, patience, and consideration, we must give time – a lot more time than most of us are willing to give at present.Eknath Easwaran, Words To Live By
We all need warm, deep, personal relationships to thrive, but modern life seems to place such a small value on them – compared with the high value placed on money and prestige and pleasure. It is so easy to be distracted and to fritter our attention away in countless ways, until we find we have little left for family and friends. By simplifying our lives, dropping less important activities, we allow more time for what matters most. But it is also essential to slow down our pace of living, so that we can free ourselves from the grip of time-driven thinking and behavior.