13 November. Monday, Week 32
Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth, think of the Lord in goodness and seek him with sincerity of heart; because he is found by those who do not put him to the test, and manifests himself to those who do not distrust him.
For perverse thoughts separate people from God, and when his power is tested, it exposes the foolish; because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, or dwell in a body enslaved to sin.
For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit, and will leave foolish thoughts behind, and will be ashamed at the approach of unrighteousness.
For wisdom is a kindly spirit, but will not free blasphemers from the guilt of their words; because God is witness of their inmost feelings, and a true observer of their hearts, and a hearer of their tongues.
Because the spirit of the Lord has filled the world, and that which holds all things together knows what is said.
Jesus said to his disciples, "Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive."
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."
This week draws on the Book of Wisdom, the last of the Old Testament wisdom books. In the following two weeks we will read from the two books of Maccabees and the prophet Daniel, showing how the Jews suffered for their fidelity to the Law in their daily living. Daniel, like Maccabees, reflects an era of intense persecution; but it also offers a glimpse of the glorious coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven.
We are to live with feet firmly planted on earth. The Old Testament is often very earthy, yet no less valuable for that. God accepts us wherever we happen to live, whatever may be our life situation. The Book of Wisdom offers many practical principles for living: seek integrity of heart; avoid foolish advice; do not put God to the test; rebuke injustice; keep guard over our tongue. The Jewish writer in Egypt who composed the book of Wisdom offered his young students a context of meaning for their life, with heart and mind alert to God’s presence and open to a God-filled universe. No place is too small, no question too trifling, nor is any place too immense nor any problem too complex, for the influence of God not to be near at hand, helping us.
Today’s gospel tackles a common problem people who are high-minded and idealistic: how to avoid being scandalized. Some will say that they need to be more streetwise and hardened to life, but Jesus warns against giving them scandal. On the other hand, idealistic people often find it difficult to forgive the weakness of others. Because virtue comes as second nature to them, they can under-estimate the force of temptation or else be so attached to their own scale of values that they fail to see any goodness in the different values of other people. The inability of pious folk to forgive may turn out to be a major scandal to unbelievers. One’s quest for holiness needs to be balanced by faith in God’s activity in the lives of others.
Jesus warns against putting obstacles in the way of other people's faith, leading them astray or away from the Lord. What he wants is that we be present to others in ways that help them grow in friendship with the Lord. We can do it in various ways. Those who become faith-friends or prayer-friends to children making their first Holy Communion or Confirmation help to support their relationship with the Lord. When the children know that people are praying for them, it helps them to appreciate all the more their friendship with God and God's goodness to them.
Early in his gospel, Luke presents Mary and Elizabeth as faith-friends to each other. Their meeting during Mary's visit to Elizabeth helped each of them to deepen their relationship with the Lord. Elizabeth was graced by Mary's coming and Mary in turn was inspired by Elizabeth's greeting to pray her Magnificat . We may feel that our own faith is not strong enough to give any support to the faith of others. Like the disciples we may find ourselves praying, "Lord, increase our faith." But in response to their prayer, Jesus assures all of us that even a little faith can work wonders, even a small mustard-seed size of faith can be a marvellous help to the faith of others.