Christ never promised us an easy path. On the contrary, if we plan to actually follow Christ — to really step into his bloody footsteps — we’re promised we will face hardship.
This aspect of our discipleship is front and center in today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom.
In this reading we delve into another of the deuterocanonical, or apocryphal, books of the Bible, depending on your tradition.
But, while this book was outside Judaic canon, and fell outside primary canon in Christian tradition, it is a book that gives us a clear view into the coming ministry of Jesus, and into the true nature of our discipleship as followers of The Way of Christ.
It is believed the Book of Wisdom was written about 50 years before the birth of Christ, by an unknown author who was likely a member of the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt.
In addition to its importance by virtue of being penned so soon before the birth of Christ, Wisdom, in its second chapter, also gives us one of the clearest Old Testament period visions of the coming of Christ — outside perhaps Psalm 22 and the prophetic writings of Isaiah. And, outside the passion of Christ and Acts of the Apostles, it gives us the clearest vision of the world’s likely reaction if we actually attempt to emulate Christ.
In the opening of our reading from Wisdom, the author paints a picture of the same society that Jesus faced, and that we face if we mean to follow Him.
Society, in this passage, is defined by what can only be called hedonism — the pursuit of personal pleasure above all else.
This society oppresses the poor and the old. It worships might and wealth as the ultimate ends. And any pursuit of good is seen as not only futile and silly, but as a direct threat to the ruling order.
From Wisdom 2:10-11 (immediately preceding the portion of our passage beginning in verse 12): “’As for the upright man who is poor, let us oppress him; let us not spare the widow, nor respect old age, white-haired with many years. Let our might be the yardstick of right, since weakness argues its own futility.’”
If we look honestly at our own society, we see this same sad state of affairs being lived out. The poor, the powerless, the marginalized — these are at best political pawns, and more often a hidden inconvenience to our culture of consumption.
There is no greater threat to that system — either in the first century or the twenty-first — than an impassioned following of Christ.
The mother of Christ, the Blessed Virgin St. Mary, tells us this much about her son in her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55):
He has shown might with His arm, / He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. / He has put down the mighty from their thrones, / and has exalted the lowly. / He has filled the hungry with good things, / and the rich He has sent away empty.
That represents a complete overturning of the world as it is — as it always has been — if we follow in Christ’s footsteps.
Our hedonists in Wisdom know this threat “the righteous man poses,” and they have a simple solution — the solution the powerful usually choose when threatened by what the world deems weak.
Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training.
The mere presence of righteousness is a threat to evil, as the psalmist points out in Psalm 112:10 — “The sinner will see and be angry; he will gnash his teeth and melt away.”
And nothing stirs up this kind of enmity in the world like the presence of Christ — the ultimate manifestation of righteousness.
Going back to Wisdom, the author predicts the response of the unrighteous to Christ:
Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.
We know from the Gospels Jesus faced precisely that kind of death. But, those who subjected Jesus to the cross could not foresee the cross would be His victory. They could not see divinity in their presence, or foresee His conquering of death, because they were blinded by their worship of wealth and power.
Again, from Wisdom:
Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them … God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.
If we are to follow Christ, we cannot allow our vision of Him to be blurred or blinded by pride, greed, fear and hatred. By hedonism. And, we must be willing to take up our cross, and embrace the response of a world that is threatened by the radical love of the Gospel.
In 1 Corinthians 4:11-13, St. Paul gives us a view of the identity we must be willing to take on, in the eyes of a world threatened by righteousness:
To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.
If we are to follow Christ — in a radical movement of love that lifts up the lowly in ways that terrify the mighty — we must accept seeking the glory of Christ may make us be seen as garbage in the eyes of the world.
If we are to truly follow Christ, we must expect the sting of the lash. We must embrace the crown of thorns, pressed onto our head by a world that worships power and is threatened by grace. We must walk with him through the spit, the jeers and condemnation of a world that speaks Christ on the lips, but reviles Him and the Gospel at heart. We must place our feet in His bloody footsteps, and drag our cross to Golgotha, where we die to the greed, envy, hedonism and hatred of this world.
In our Lenten discipline, we must look within, and ask ourselves: In what ways are we shying away from walking in the footsteps of Christ? In what ways are we succumbing to the fear of the world, rather than surrendering to the path of the cross?
Lord Christ, you do not call us to an easy path. Give us the strength and courage to take up our cross and follow you. Lord God, help us to die to ourselves and serve only you. Amen.