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.
O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you. (R./)
Before ever a word is on my tongue
you know it, O Lord, through and through.
Behind and before you besiege me,
your hand ever laid upon me.
Too wonderful for me, this knowledge,
too high, beyond my reach. (R./)
O where can I go from your spirit,
or where can I flee from your face?
If I climb the heavens, you are there.
If I lie in the grave, you are there. (R./)
If I take the wings of the dawn
and dwell at the sea's furthest end,
even there your hand would lead me,
your right hand would hold me fast. (R./)
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 we read from the Book of Wisdom, the last of the "sapiential" (wisdom-inducing) books to be written. Then 33 and 34, will draw from the account of the Maccabee struggle and the Prophecy of Daniel, describing how Jews suffered for keeping to the Mosaic law, which was proscribed by powerful invaders. Both Daniel and Maccabees reflect intense persecution by foreigners; and as a glimmer of hope Daniel foresees the glorious coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven.
The Book of Wisdom is very practical. We are meant to be aware of our behavious and live with two feet firmly planted on the ground. It offers pointers or warnings for keeping ourselves steady during life. We should value our personal integrity and not take foolish advice, nor put God to the test. It is our duty to rebuke injustice, be prudent in eating and drinking and keep guard over our tongue.
The teacher in Egypt who composed the book of Wisdom (probably in Alexandria) wanted to give an alternative schooling to that provided by the Greek philosophers. He offered his Jewish students a religious background for their reflections on life, with an awareness of God's presence within oneself and openness to a God-filled universe. His practical counsel are interwoven with a sense of God's presence in all things. Nothing is too small, no question too trifling, no dimension too immense nor any problem too complex, for the influence of God not to be near, helping us.
Today's gospel broaches a problem that can bother people who are high-minded, trustful and idealistic: how to cope with or ignore, if not restrain, the faults of others. In our multicultural age and with conflicting moral standards all accepted in civil law, maybe we just need to be more streetwise and tolerant of flamboyant lifestyles. However Jesus defends the value of moral innocence and warns his disciples against giving scandal. On the other hand, idealists often find it difficult to forgive. Because moral obligation seems obvious to them, they cannot empathise with the addictions felt by others. One can hold their own criteria of holiness so strongly and fail to see any value in the different principles held by others. If religious people seem so prissy as to totally reject the good intentions of the secular world, this could be a scandal to people outside the church. Our quest for holiness must be balanced by a trust that God is also guiding the lives of others.
Jesus warns against scandal, that is putting an obstacle (skandalon) that can trip someone else; leading them astray and away from the Lord. Its opposite is being supportive of people's faith, being present to them in ways that help them grow to their full personal stature. We can do that in various ways. Those who become faith-friends or prayer-friends to children preparing for the sacraments support their relationship with the Lord. If children know that adults are praying for them, it helps them appreciate their friendship with the Lord and his friendship with them.
In a fine example of faith friendship, Luke presents Mary and Elizabeth as mutually supportive in prayer. Each of them helped the other to put their full trust in God. Elizabeth's joyful affirmation of the special grace given to Mary inspired the wonderful Magnificat in praise of God's mercy. Perhaps we think that our own faith is not strong enough to offer spiritual support to others. Like the apostles we may find ourselves praying, "Lord, increase our faith." In response to that prayer, Jesus assures us that even a little faith can work wonders, even a small mustard-seed of faith can encourage the faith of others.