Daily Reflection
May 29th, 1999
John O'Keefe
Sirach 51:12-20
Mark 11:27-33
In the New Testament the leaders of Israel often appear as foolish, narrow-thinking buffoons.  In today’s Gospel the chief priests and the scribes are caught in a trap.  If they identify the baptism offered by John the Baptist as divine, they will be accused of not fearing God.  If they say it was human, they will alienate the crowd.  And so, they remain silent and Jesus does not illuminate them.

When we read stories like this one about hard-hearted scribes and Pharisees, we are tempted to self-congratulations: “Thank God I am not like that.”  But this is to miss the point.  The attitudes expressed by the chief priest and the scribes are really human attitudes.  They were, frankly, maneuvering for a political position.  They did not want to put their position at risk.  They did not want to say anything controversial so they wound up saying nothing at all.  I know full well that this describes me at times.

The powerful message of this story is that when we, like these chief priest and scribes, act in this way, we too are unable to answer the questions that the Lord puts to us and, he does not illuminate us.  We have, in short, cut ourselves off from the font of wisdom.

The reading from Sirach offers a kind of antidote to the myopia of the chief priests, the scribes, and us.  The key is seeking wisdom.  She, writes the author, is beautiful, she brings joy to the heart, and she is worthy of all our striving.  For Sirach, she is the “one, true, thing.”  Purity of heart, focused devotion to God’s truth, diligence in prayer, indeed being “preoccupied” with wisdom, to return to Sirach’s language, will make us capable of hearing the Lord when he speaks.

A life focused on things that matter brings a kind of liberation and so Sirach exclaims “He saved me from evil of every kind…for this reason I thank him and I praise him.”  Sadly the chief priest and the scribes in this story did not hear and did not know this liberation.  Hopefully we will fare better than they.

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