Those who study Scripture's "wisdom literature" realize the Bible doesn't have one uniform theology. Not only do these books contain different theologies, but their authors actually engage in a debate about wisdom itself.

Proverbs and Sirach, for instance, teach that if people are observant; they'll discover God's behavior patterns all around them. Job and Ecclesiastes question that thesis. Both teach that God is so "other" that no one can uncover God's reasoning no matter how long they study and observe.

We hear some of the first theology in the first reading (Sir 3: 17-18, 20, 28-29). Notice how logical and precise each verse is: "My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God..." One simply has to open the book of Job, and he or she will immediately find that theology contradicted by Job's "unexplainable" experiences.

Going up

Listening to the Gospel (Lk 14: 1, 7-14) against the background of this debate, it seems that Jesus uses elements from both sides of the debate. He begins by advising His followers to do the "logical" thing when they're invited to a wedding banquet. "Do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited."

The perfect way to be spared embarrassment is to make certain you don't put yourself into a situation in which you can be embarrassed. "Go and take the lowest place," Jesus recommends, "so that when the host comes to you he may say, `My friend, move up to higher position.'" In other words, always situate yourself so the only way you can go is up.

But then He quickly changes His advice. Now addressing the host, Jesus says something completely illogical. "When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends of your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you."

Jesus wants His disciples to realize they live their lives on different levels. On one hand, they can do things which guarantee they'll have a moderately fulfilled life, things everyone agree with. But on the other hand, real fulfillment for Him involves going beyond the point at which logical people stop. Real happiness is something which takes us into eternity.

"For you will be repaid," He assures His host, "at the resurrection of the righteous." Only those who dare break through the boundaries of rationality break into eternal life.

Old and new

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews presents his readers with a similar contract (Heb 12: 18-19, 22-24). Throughout this work, he compares his idea of Judaism with his idea of Christianity. The former always ends up being the "old," the latter, the "new." At the most, Judaism is just an imperfect shadow of what Christianity actually is.

He contrasts the way Yahweh's covenant with the Chosen People came about with the way Jesus enters into a new covenant with His followers. For him, the Sinai event was anything but consoling. It was so terrifying that "those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them."

Nothing like that was part of Jesus' dying and rising. That event brought us to "the city of the living God..., and countless angels..., and the assembly if the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just..., and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant...." No question about which covenant is better.

Yet, followers of God know faith is never that simple. They always appreciate the debates they find in Scripture. They're certain faith is constantly a mixing of the logical with the illogical.

(08-30-01)