Wednesday of Week 32 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Wisdom 6:1-11

Today we enter a part of the book which deals with Solomon and his quest for wisdom. As mentioned, the author, as a literary device (quite common in his day), presents his work as that of King Solomon, the son of David, who had died centuries previously.

Unlike the beginning of Monday’s reading where the author seemed to be addressing kings and rulers, but was in fact speaking to his fellow-Jews in Alexandria, today the words are addressed to kings with warnings on how to fulfil their responsibilities. It is a warning that their power is not something to be taken for granted or sought for its own sake. He speaks to those:

…who rule over multitudes and boast of many nations.

It was an age of empires, with one succeeding the other as each one toppled.

Of course, we need to remember that what applies to them also applies to all who are in positions of authority and responsibility over others, even if on a much lower scale.

Rulers need to remember that all power emanates from God:

For your dominion was given you from the Lord and your sovereignty from the Most High…

The doctrine of the divine origin of power had already been variously asserted in Scripture with regard to Israel’s kings. Here the author extends its application to include all rulers whatsoever, believing or non-believing. However great the trappings with which they are surrounded, they are merely ‘servants’ of God’s overall sovereignty. It is God who will look closely at everything they do and analyse their secret intentions and in the end pass judgement on their record.

Many, he implies, abused their power (and many still do) and will face severe punishment. It will be too bad for them, as servants of the King of kings, if they have not ruled with justice or followed the law – whether that is the Mosaic law or any legal code which is based on the natural law recognised by all and interpreted by conscience. As Paul comments in his Letter to the Romans:

When gentiles, who do not possess the law, by nature do what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. (Rom 2:14)

It is the part of his Letter where he asserts that the gentiles, even though deprived of the guidance of the Jewish Law, have enough evidence from the world around them to make sound moral judgements.

Kings and leaders who do not follow the will of God by observing enacted laws of their peoples will have a swift and terrible judgement. In the Old Testament, even people like Moses, King David and King Hezekiah met with severe punishment. Moses was not allowed to bring his people into the Promised Land. David saw his son and heir killed by his own soldiers. Hezekiah would have all his royal property take off to Babylon.

The higher a person’s rank, the greater their responsibility and thus the greater the punishment when they step out of line:

…he will come upon you terribly and swiftly, because severe judgment falls on those in high places.

As the Gospel says:

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required… (Luke 12:48)

The resources of the rulers are greater, so their responsibility is greater and hence their accountability is all the more.

However, those at the bottom of the social ladder will be treated more tolerantly. They (the poor) will be pardoned “out of mercy” partly because of ignorance, illiteracy and perhaps oppressive conditions which might drive them to desperate measures to survive. If they stole something, it was probably because they had nothing to eat for themselves and their family. When kings steal, they reduce others to poverty.

And God is in awe of no king, however powerful, however extensive the territories over which he rules. He is the Maker of all – great and small alike and has equal power over all of them. Hence, “a strict inquiry is in store for the mighty.”

Concluding on a more positive note, rulers are encouraged to “learn wisdom” so that they may not fall into error. Wisdom, not power and wealth, is the most precious thing they can have. Solomon was praised by God for asking for wisdom rather than for power, wealth or the destruction of his enemies:

For they will be made holy who observe holy things in holiness…

That is, those who faithfully obey the will of God will be recognised as ‘holy ones’ at the judgement. This applies to king and commoner alike. True wisdom, true insight into the meaning of life and into the relationships that govern people’s interaction is what will keep them on the paths of goodness and justice. If only they will listen to what the author has to say about Wisdom, they will learn what they need most to know as just rulers.

All of us are in some way in positions of some authority, positions of responsibility often involving other people. It is important for us to realise that authority does not give us the right to claim special privileges over others, still less to abuse or manipulate people for our own ends.

On the contrary it imposes on us a serious responsibility to empower others, to help them generate their potential to the fullest. The higher our position of authority, the greater is the need for us to be at the disposal of those committed to our charge. The higher we are, the more we need to serve. Like Jesus, we are all called to serve and not to be served.

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