Sunday Sermon for February 12, 2017, the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Sir 15:15-20; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Mt 5:17-37

In the second reading today St. Paul says that he speaks a wisdom to the spiritually mature. This seems a bit striking since he has, on several occasions in the first chapters of his First Letter to the Corinthians, stated that when he came to them it was not in wisdom. He did not preach with wisdom and fancy words, but he preached only Jesus Christ crucified. So why does he suddenly reverse himself and say that he is speaking with wisdom?

In this Letter, St. Paul makes a distinction between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. In the present reading he is speaking about the wisdom of God which he says is mysterious and hidden. He goes on to say that none of the rulers of the world knew the wisdom of God, because if they did, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. However, without knowing the wisdom of God, the rulers of the world actually carried it out in a way they could never have understood.

It is precisely in the crucifixion of our Lord that the wisdom of God is demonstrated. On the surface, on the natural level, this does not appear to be very wise. The powers of the world believe that one can conquer only by being victorious in battle. Obviously, the one who dies in battle is the loser. One conquers by strength, not by weakness. The one who is superior is the one who can order someone else to be put to death, not the one who is put to death.

But St. Paul goes even further with his insight. Not only is the wisdom of God demonstrated through the crucifixion, but Jesus Christ crucified is the Wisdom of God. He became everything that He was not in order to make us into everything that we were not. He is life itself, but He chose death; He is omnipotent, but He chose weakness; He is supreme over all, but He chose humility and obedience. He lowered Himself to exalt us.

This is why Sirach can say in the first reading that fire and water, life and death, good and evil are placed before us; whichever we choose will be given to us. All of history, from Adam and Eve onward, demonstrates that humanity has a tendency to choose the wrong thing. Because of sin we have a propensity to choose in a selfish manner. The devil knows very well how to make something look enticing; Jesus said of him that he is a liar from the beginning.

It is very easy to be duped when we are being self-centered, but it is far more difficult to fool someone when they are acting from a motive of charity. This charity, manifest most clearly on the Cross, is the foundation of the wisdom of God. This is the reason the rulers of this world did not have the discernment to recognize God’s wisdom: because they were looking at themselves.

God’s wisdom, as we see in the Person of Christ, must be displayed and lived in order to be understood. In other words, it is not enough to not be self-focused; we have to be other focused. This is the love of God and neighbor. It is possible for a person to not desire worldly goods and acclaim, but at the same time have no care for others either. God’s wisdom teaches us that we have to be concerned with the good of others.

While Sirach acknowledges that God commands no one to act unjustly and that He gives no one the license to sin, He still gives us the choice to reach out our hand to charity or selfishness. This is why our Lord tells us in the Gospel that one who lives according to the wisdom of God has a righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees. While they did strive to follow the Law, they were very much lacking in charity. They were strict about the letter of the Law, but they ignored the spirit of charity with which the Law was given.

Our Lord tells us that not even the smallest part of a letter will pass from the Law until it is completely fulfilled. He then immediately points us beyond the letter of the Law to true righteousness which is acting in charity, or acting according to Divine Wisdom. Thus, it is not just murder which is forbidden, but being angry with someone or calling them names. It is not just adultery that we shun, but even being lustful toward another.

Thus, the hidden, mysterious wisdom of God is demonstrated in the Crucified Christ and in the spiritually mature who choose to die to self in order to live for others.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit