Searching for Wisdom

Douglas P. McManaman
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reproduced with Permission

In the First Reading from the book of Wisdom, we read that before the Lord the entire universe is as a grain of sand or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. This is an interesting image, because the writer at the time would have had no idea just how large the universe really is. Not only is the universe much bigger than this ancient writer would have realized, it is much bigger than what any of us can actually manage to conceive; our imagination becomes too stretched to be able to manage the information we currently have about the universe. The earth is to Saturn as a golf ball is to a basketball, and Saturn is to the sun as a golf ball is to a basketball. However, the sun is to the star Pollux as a golf ball is to a basketball, and the star Pollux is to Alpha Tauri as a golf ball is to a basketball, which in turn is the size of a tiny marble compared to the largest known star, Canis Majoris, which is 3, 600 times the diameter of the sun - it would take a commercial jet one thousand one hundred years to circle it. And of course this star is a tiny speck of dust within our own Milky Way Galaxy, and there are between 100 to 200 billion galaxies.

But all this is, before God's gaze, a drop of mist as it were. If we think hard about what this means, it should help reduce our fears and anxieties: God is completely in control of every aspect of our lives, and nothing has the power to contravene his will - i.e., both his permissive and creative will.

Moreover, there is another universe that can be explored, and this is found in the opposite direction, the microscopic universe. Just as the known universe extends to 10 to the power of 24 meters (1024), so the microscopic universe is as small as 10 to the power of -24 meters (10-24). That is mind bogglingly small.

All this incomprehensibility in the universe - and there are an inexhaustible number of layers and facets to it - is nothing but a reflection of God's incomprehensibility and infinity. And despite the size of the known universe - let alone what is beyond that - , the human person is the only creature in this visible universe created in the image and likeness of God. All this exists for us, who are from one angle utterly insignificant, but from another angle - a more important angle - utterly significant. Our scientific quest for the ultimate meaning of things is nothing but a step in our natural search for God, who is the origin of all that is, and who is both infinite and incomprehensible (infinitely knowable). Human beings naturally seek to know, and when we know the origin and cause of something, we understand it. Our life is a constant quest for understanding; it is a quest for God.

The First Reading concludes that it is because God is so vast and all powerful that he is patient and has mercy on us: "You have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people's sins that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned".

Although all science is a search for God because it is a search for the knowledge of the origin of everything - and everyone naturally desires knowledge - , not everyone searches for wisdom. In fact, very few search for the wisdom of God.

In this same book of Wisdom, just back a few pages in chapter 6, there are some very interesting lines. Beginning in verse 12, we read: "Wisdom is bright, and does not grow dim. By those who love her she is readily seen, and found by those who look for her. Quick to anticipate those who desire her, she makes herself known to them. Watch for her early and you will have no trouble; you will find her sitting at your doorstep. ...She herself walks about looking for those who are worthy of her and graciously shows herself to them as they go, in every thought of theirs coming to meet them."

What this means, essentially, is that wisdom goes out looking for anyone who desires her; she anticipates those who look for her, and this means that if a person is not wise, if a person lacks the wisdom of God, it is because they don't desire to find her, for if they did, wisdom would have found them immediately. This takes us to our gospel reading because Wisdom became flesh in the Person of Jesus (Jn 1, 1). In this gospel, Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see "who Jesus was". He could not see him because of the crowd, so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see him. In other words, he made a real effort not merely to see Jesus, but as the Scriptures say "to see who Jesus was". Because Jesus is wisdom (the Second Person of the Trinity) made flesh, he knew precisely who was looking for him and so he found Zacchaeus, at his doorstep, so to speak. Jesus looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house."

Why must Jesus stay at his house? Because he knows that Zacchaeus is open to receiving him. So he came down quickly and received him with joy. And it is quite astounding what happened next: "Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over."

There is an immediate moral conversion. He was transformed just being in the very presence of Jesus. He felt his own sinfulness against that background and repented of it immediately. Jesus then says at the end: "Salvation has come to this house...for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."

All science is a search for God, but God who is Wisdom Itself comes searching for us, and he only finds those who want to be found. The Incarnation of the Son of God is God's coming in search of us. Anyone who is not found simply does not want to be found, at least not at this time.

The good news in all of this is echoed in what Christ said in Matthew: "Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find. Everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds". If we want wisdom, it will be ours; if we want God, he is ours; if we want salvation, it is ours. And if we are in the dark, it is because we want to be, we are comfortable there and find light very uncomfortable. Out of that huge crowd, Jesus went straight for Zacchaeus. It is safe to say that most of that crowd did not want to know "who Jesus was"; they were just curious, as are a lot of people today who are curious about the faith, about the Church, what she teaches and what she believes, etc., but who stand at a distance and have no real desire to "know who Christ is"; actually wanting the light and wisdom of God is another matter, a far more weighty matter. To receive that light demands that the darkness in us be cast out, and Zacchaeus immediately repented of that darkness and made room for Christ. His wealth did not mean as much to him at that point; he had something now that was incomparably greater than his wealth, something that his wealth and its ensuing personal security was unable to bring him. What he owned left him restless, as it does all of us. The wealthy are no happier than any of us, they simply have more convenient lives, more pleasure and opportunity to leisure. But real joy is something else entirely. Christ brings salvation, and the joy of salvation is an "other worldly" joy. We know immediately if not explicitly that wealth runs out because our lives run out, like a burning candle. But the soul does not die; it begins to exist and it exists forever. A soul filled with the light of God is a soul filled with joy, and once we have tasted that joy, we know that no earthly wealth can compare to it and we are willing to give up everything for the sake of that treasure. But we have to taste it first, and that won't happen unless we want it; but if we want it, that is, if we want to know Christ and know who he is, we will begin to know that joy almost immediately.