Where is true wisdom to be found? Business success? Advanced degrees from prestigious universities? Political leaders? Social media ‘influencers’? I think we would agree that these are not dependable indicators of wisdom.
Smart and wise are not the same thing. Smart is relatively easy to test and discern. Wisdom is more illusive, and, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. I knew a man, who I considered to be fairly wise, who was fond of saying, with a wink, “You’re a smart man. You think like I do.” If I may fudge just a little on our definitions, his point is a good one. We often assume our own way of thinking and doing to be the wise way, so those who agree are “wise” and those who do not are “idiots.” Sadly, this thinking seems especially true in political matters.
James has a better understanding for us. At the beginning of this week’s lesson, he writes, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” (James 3:13, click here for the full passage)
Do you notice the hierarchy James is using? The primary behavior born of wisdom is gentleness. Then, out of gentleness comes a good life and good works. The first thing wisdom does is guide us to act in gentleness.
Do not misunderstand this. Gentleness does not mean passiveness, or weakness. In fact, it often takes great strength of character to act in gentleness in the face of ill treatment, envy, selfishness, etc. Rather, to be gentle is to be concerned first with the other, with kindness, truthfulness, compassion. To be gentle is never to be concerned first with self.
Let your wisdom be shown first in gentleness. Don’t worry about looking smart (it usually backfires, anyway). Don’t worry about sounding wise and insightful. Work first to be gentle, to be concerned for and of service to the other. In doing so, you will find yourself in the wisdom of God — the best place to be!
This column appeared in the September 19, 2021 issue of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.