Last Friday, Catholics celebrated the feast day of St Mary Magdalene. This is the lady who is mentioned in all four Gospels as being among the women of Galilee who followed Jesus and His disciples, who was present at His Crucifixion and Burial, and who went to the tomb on Easter Sunday to anoint His body. She was the first to see the Risen Lord, and to announce His Resurrection to the apostles. She was thus referred to in early Christian writings as the apostle to the apostles.
A lot has been written about Mary Magdalene. Some had even argued that she was the author of the Gospel according to John, while some said she was the bride of Jesus Christ. Dan Brown has something to say about this in his Da Vinci Code. Many paintings, artifacts, plays, musicals and films were inspired by her. She was often portrayed as a penitent sinner or prostitute who had caused considerable controversy in her time. Colleges are named after her in Oxford and Cambridge, though the names were spelt differently, Magdalen in Oxford and Magdalene in Cambridge. In both places, however, they are pronounced “Maudlin”, probably deriving from the English word “maudlin”, meaning “effusively or tearfully sentimental.” She is the patron saint of converts, contemplative life, hairstylists, perfumes, pharmacists, reformed prostitutes, and penitent sinners, among others.
When my wife was about to be baptized, the Reverend Father asked her to find a name, Rosita not being the name of a saint. After some research, we narrowed down to a few names, and eventually she chose Magdalene, after Mary Magdalene. She had seen Mel Gibson’s Passion then and was moved by the deeds of Magdalene. She could possibly have been taken in by Dan Brown. Thus we would have celebrated her patron saint together last Friday had she been around. As it turned out, we did it separately. I recall asking her jokingly shortly after her baptism whether she would respond to the name, having used Rosita for so long. She was pretty affirmative in her reply, “Why not, I did choose it, didn’t I?” It seems she liked the name too, which was why I tried to have her name in the death certificate, but the officials would not have it and I had no stomach to argue with them at the time.
Still on the Gospel account of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, all authors recorded that she could not recognize Jesus, not until Jesus called her in her mother tongue. It was symbolical of the resurrected Jesus showing her – the first among mortals – the new world order brought in through His Resurrection and thereby changing mankind’s relationship with God.
In the days of the Old Testament, mankind’s relationship with God was described or interpreted through the prophets. We were told, for example, that the Lord said, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9) This is where one needs faith to develop one’s relationship with God, normally through prayers. In any religion which features man as God’s creation, it is definitional that an individual can never understand the ways and means of his Creator. Over the ages, we have seen that even the most learned and erudite had had difficulties understanding how God works. Here, let me share with you another thought of Leonardo da Vinci on divine irreducibility, “They want to embrace the Intelligence of God in whom the universe is contained and to measure it and divide it infinitely as if it could be dissected!” This wise man had spent a lot of them looking at almost everything physical and metaphysical, natural and divine, arts and science, and so on. In the end, it was faith, and this was what he said, among other things, “What is the undefinable thing which would cease to be if it were to be formulated? – The infinite, which would be finite if it could be defined!”
Talking of wise men, one of today’s scripture readings was from 1 Kings 3. Solomon had just become king after his father David died. The Lord appeared to the young king in a dream at night. God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon’s answer was classic humility from which we can all benefit. He asked God for “an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” In short, he asked God for wisdom. The scripture went on to say that God was pleased with Solomon’s request and God said to him, “Because you have asked for this – not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right – I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.” (1 Kings: 3:10-12)
The scripture also said that God gave Solomon many more things, including riches and a long life. When Solomon woke up, he went to Jerusalem to thank God and then gave his servants a banquet.
Ask yourself what your answers would have been if your were in Solomon’s position. I can hear you say that you would not answer hypothetical questions, but I bet that most of you might not have been as spontaneous and as kingly as Solomon, which is why we now often speak of the wisdom of Solomon. Besides, very few of us would be kings, so it would not be a sin if you had thought of health and wealth first and wisdom later.
But what is wisdom in this context? Wisdom certainly is not just being smart, intelligent, worldly wise, or being able to win your neighbour’s gold and silver, or his friends. It is not just being strong, fast or accurate, or be the Number One in any if not all situations. I cannot claim to have the perfect answer, but wisdom in the context of today’s scripture reading would mean the ability to judge wisely and justly, and to distinguish right from wrong, good and evil. More relevantly, it is the ability and the willingness to listen to and follow the will of God. I do not necessarily mean just the God referred to by Christians, for it doesn’t matter, because there is only one God, and He is God whichever name you use.
Wisdom would imply being able to identify truths which is the first leg of our 4-Way Test. So my friends, Rotarians are on the right track. Very often, men and women ask for things that they do not need, which I think is the reverse of wisdom. In my religion, we are taught to pray to God for our needs and to appreciate that God would not always give us what we ask, but rather would grant us what is best for us, which is often better than what we asked for in the long run.
I hope God would grant you the wisdom you need with which you can help build a better world for His creations.
Talk to you later