How to be Wise

14 October 2006: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 7, 7-11; Psalm 90; Heb 4, 12-13; Mark 10, 17-30

When we are young, we are good at memorizing. And it is a breeze to go from one detail to the other. And often, in the hodge-podge of concepts, theories and terminologies, we often miss the point. Here’s a story:

A young student was using the inductive method to observe the characteristics of a grasshopper. Plucking a leg off the grasshopper, he ordered, “Jump!”

The grasshopper promptly jumped.

Taking another leg off, the youngster commanded, “Jump!”

The grasshopper jumped again.

The student continued this process until he came to the final leg. By now, the grasshopper had a little difficulty jumping, but it was still trying. The student pulled the final hind leg off and again ordered the grasshopper to jump. But it didn’t respond. He raised his voice and demanded the grasshopper to jump. And it failed to jump.

Here is what the youngster wrote as an observation: “When you remove the legs of the grasshopper, it loses its sense of hearing!”

In the Gospel, the young man knows the commandments and followed it to the letter; our student has followed the procedure perfectly well. The young man in the Gospel had all his possessions; the modern student is overflowing with knowledge. The accumulation of knowledge does not constitute wisdom. Wisdom is acquired by giving up what we have. Jesus said, “Take what you have and spend it on others, and you will find true happiness.” The young man could not. With all your possessions, with all your knowledge, with the honor one acquires by studying in a prestigious university, and with the privilege of having opportunities to a better life, what positive good have you done to others? You may not have defrauded anyone, or hurt anyone, but have you been generous to others? Often, like the student, we miss the point when we accumulate wealth. Many intelligent individuals are lonely; many talented people are depressed; many educated individuals wallow in resentment; many rich individuals live empty lives.

Look at Ani Agarwal, an Indian mining tycoon, who gave $1 billion to build a world-class university in India. He said, “India desperately needs to improve its education. What is the point of money if it’s not made to be given back to society?” We hear of John Gokongwei, Jr who donated 10.25 billion to charity. Those who are happiest are those who have given all that they have to someone else. Look at those with friends. Look at those with family. Look at those who truly love.

The point of life is clear: we are given possessions to give it away; we acquire knowledge so that in later life you may pass it on to the next generation; we are given someone to love so that everything we have is shared to them; we are given children to gather them, so that in later life, you let them go. Only when we are able to give away, that we acquire wisdom. The first reading tells us that wisdom then is preferred to gold or silver, health or beauty. Jesus is teaching us now how to be wise. Here’s a story about Mahatma Gandhi. We know him as a wise man.

One day, Mahatma Gandhi stepped on the train, but one of his shoes slipped and landed on the track. He was unable to retrieve it as the train was already moving. To the amazement of his companions, Gandhi calmly took off his other shoe and threw it back along the track almost close to the first shoe. Asked by his companion why he did so, Gandhi answered, “If a poor man finds the shoe on the track, he will now have a pair he can use.”

Mahatma Gandhi is wise. How about us?

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