Jesus Christ, Messiah and Divine Wisdom

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 22 April 1987, the Holy Father reflected on Divine Wisdom as “not an abstract doctrine but rather a person who comes from God and who was with God from the beginning.”

A rich tradition of wisdom literature permeates the Old Testament. On the human level, it manifests the thirst of every person to make sense of the various experiences of daily existence and to direct one's life in the most profitable and worthwhile way. From this point of view Israel did not depart from the forms of wisdom found in other cultures of antiquity. It elaborated its own wisdom of life which embraced the various sectors of existence: individual, family, social and political.

This search for wisdom, however, was never separated from faith in the Lord, the God of the Exodus. This was due to the fact that for the Chosen People, perfect wisdom is to be found in God alone. For this reason the "fear of the Lord," the religious and vital orientation toward him, was regarded as the "principle," the "foundation," the "school" of true wisdom (Prov 1:7; 9:10; 15:33).

Under the influence of the liturgical and prophetic tradition the wisdom theme was singularly enriched and came to permeate the whole of revelation. After the exile there was an ever clearer understanding that human wisdom is a reflection of the divine Wisdom which God "has poured forth upon all his works, upon every living thing according to his bounty" (Sir 1:9-10). The peak point of the gift of wisdom occurred with the revelation to the chosen people to whom the Lord made known his Word (cf. Dt 30:14). Indeed divine Wisdom, known in the fullest form of which man is capable, is revelation itself, the "Torah," "the book of the Most High's covenant" (Sir 24:23).

1. Personalized symbol

In this context divine Wisdom appears as God's mysterious design which is at the origin of creation and salvation. It is the light which illumines all, the word which reveals, the power of love which joins God with creation and with his people. Divine Wisdom is not an abstract doctrine but rather a person who comes from God and who was with God from the beginning (cf. Prov 8:22-31). He is his delight in the moment of creation of the world and of humanity, rejoicing always before him (Prov 8:22-31).

The Book of Sirach again takes up this theme and develops it by showing that divine Wisdom finds its resting place in Israel and is established in Zion (Sir 24:3-12). Thus it indicates that the faith of the chosen people is the most sublime way to enter into communion with the divine thought and plan. The ultimate Old Testament fruit of this in-depth examination is the Book of Wisdom written shortly before Christ's birth. It defines divine Wisdom as "a breath of the power of God, a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness" (Wis 7:25-27).

At this level of personalized symbol of the divine plan, wisdom is a figure of the intimacy of communion with God and of the demand for a personal response of love. Wisdom therefore appears as a spouse (cf. Prov 4:6-9), the companion of life (cf. Prov 6:22; 7:4). With the motivations of love she invites the human person to communion with the living God. This communion is described with the liturgical image of a banquet, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed" (Prov 9:5). It is an image which will be taken up again by apocalyptic prophecy to indicate the eternal communion with God when he himself will have eliminated death forever (Is 25:6-8).

In the light of this sapiential tradition we have a better understanding of the mystery of Jesus the Messiah. A prophetic text of Isaiah already speaks of the Spirit of the Lord which shall rest on the King-Messiah and describes his Spirit especially as "the spirit of wisdom and understanding" and finally as the "spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord" (Is 11:2).

Various texts of the New Testament present Jesus as full of divine Wisdom. St. Luke's infancy Gospel suggests the important significance of Jesus' presence among the doctors in the temple, where "all who heard him were amazed at his understanding" (Lk 2:47). Luke summarizes the hidden life at Nazareth in the words, "Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man" (Lk 2:52).

During the years of Jesus' ministry his teaching occasioned surprise and amazement: "Many who heard him were astonished, saying, 'Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him?'" (Mk 6:2).

This wisdom which came from God conferred a special prestige on Jesus, "for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes" (Mt 7:29). Jesus presented himself as one who is "greater than Solomon" (Mt 12:42). Since Solomon is the ideal figure of the recipient of divine Wisdom, it follows that in these words Jesus appears explicitly as the true wisdom revealed to mankind.

With singular insight, the Apostle Paul affirmed this identification of Jesus with wisdom. He wrote that God "has made Christ our wisdom and also our justice, our sanctification, and our redemption" (1 Cor 1:30). Jesus, indeed, is the "wisdom which is not of this age...which God decreed before the ages for our glorification" (1 Cor 2:6-7). The wisdom of God is identified with the Lord of glory who was crucified. The cross and resurrection of Jesus reveal in all its splendor the merciful plan of God who loves and pardons the human person to the point of making him a new creature. Sacred Scripture speaks also of another wisdom which is not of God, the "wisdom of this age," the human attitude which refuses to be the agent of one's own salvation. In the eyes of such a person the cross is a folly and a weakness. But he who believes in Jesus, Messiah and Lord, experiences with the Apostle that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor 1:25).

Christ is ever more profoundly contemplated as the true wisdom of God. Thus, with clear reference to the language of the sapiential books he is proclaimed as "the image of the invisible God," "the first-born of all creation," the one through whom all things were created and in whom they subsist (cf. Col 1:15-17). As Son of God, he is "the reflection of the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power" (Heb 1:3).

Faith in Jesus, the wisdom of God, leads to a "full knowledge" of the divine will "in all spiritual wisdom and understanding," and makes it possible to lead a life "worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col 1:9-10).

The evangelist John, on his part, referring to the wisdom described in his intimacy with God, speaks of the Word who was in the beginning with God, and professes that "the Word was God" (Jn 1:1). The wisdom which the Old Testament had come to equate with the Word of God is now identified with Jesus, the Word who "became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14). Just as wisdom, so also Jesus, the Word of God, invites us to the banquet of his word and of his body, because he is the "bread of life" (Jn 6:48), he gives the living water of the Spirit (Jn 4:10; 7:37-39), and he has "the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68). In all this Jesus is truly "greater than Solomon" because he not only carries out fully wisdom's mission of showing and communicating the way, the truth and the life, but he himself is "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (Jn 14:6). He is the supreme revelation of God in the mystery of his fatherhood (Jn 1:18; 17:6).

This faith in Jesus, revealer of the Father, is the most sublime and consoling aspect of the Good News. This is the testimony that comes to us from the first Christian communities in which Jesus' hymn of praise to the Father continued to resound, blessing him because he was pleased to reveal "these things" to the little ones.

Throughout the centuries the Church has grown with this faith. "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Mt 11:27). In the final analysis God, in revealing the Son to us through the Spirit, manifests to us his design, his wisdom and the riches of his grace "lavished on us with all wisdom and insight" (Eph 1:8).