In the Book of Wisdom, we are invited to contemplate the mystery of the divine will: “Scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?” (Wis 9:16). Only through the gift of God’s own wisdom, “what has lain hidden from the foundations [of the world],” (Mt 13:35) can we discover the treasures of heaven itself.
Jesus Christ is this wisdom made flesh, revealing to us the hidden plan of God. His teaching reveals something that we could not discover on our own: “‘If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple’” (Lk 14:26).
The language of hatred used by Jesus is not related to emotion. Jesus does not expect the crowds he’s addressing to despise their fathers or mothers in a literal sense. Jesus requires that a disciple love the hidden wisdom of the kingdom most of all — even above the natural demands of family life.
The wisdom of the kingdom takes the form of the cross. It is a wisdom in which the only way to gain anything is to give everything away. This is the divine wisdom that Jesus has come to manifest in his very person.
Jesus exhorts the crowds not to take up citizenship in this kingdom unless one will follow its demands to the very end: “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?” (Lk 14:28). Be ready, says Jesus. This wisdom comes with a cost — you have to give everything to the Father.
Something of the wisdom of this kingdom plays out in Paul’s letter to Philemon. Paul, in prison himself, is writing this letter to a wealthy Christian named Philemon. His slave, Onesimus (also now a Christian), has most likely escaped, perhaps taking money from his owner.
Paul sends this smallest of the New Testament letters to Philemon along with Onesimus revealing the cruciform wisdom of reconciliation: “Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved … as a man and in the Lord” (Phmn 15-16).
Philemon is exhorted not simply to forgiveness, but to the wisdom of the kingdom itself: Onesimus is no longer a slave to you. He is your brother. Love him as a brother in the Lord.
The incarnation of this wisdom of the kingdom is the vocation of the Church in the world.
To the young man discriminated against because of his race, we are to stand up for him, proclaiming him as a brother in the Lord.
To the child suffering from malnourishment in our streets, we must run forth to feed her, proclaiming her as our beloved daughter.
To the million unborn infants aborted each year, we must love them as our children.
The wisdom of the kingdom is not that family has disappeared. Rather, the kingdom of God revealed by Jesus shows us that our deepest tie to one another is the immense love that the Father has for us.
We, as human beings, are all part of this family formed through the power of God’s love. A love so powerful that we could not have imagined it on our own. This love is the wisdom of the kingdom.
Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.