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Growth and Wisdom

Sunday after Epiphany BCP

13 January 2008 00:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

The season of Epiphany will be very short this year due to an early Lent. Epiphany themes have to do with revealing the true power and identity of God made man. Showing forth the divinity of Christ whom we have just heard, himself increases in wisdom, stature and in favour with God and with man. This first Sunday after Epiphany signals the manifestation of Jesus as the Wisdom of God and subsequent Sundays would focus on miracles by which divine power is revealed. This year however we shall be straight into Septuagesima, and pre Lent comes as early as next Sunday. The Epiphany themes will reappear to fill in the spare Sundays at the end of the year preceding Advent.

Two ideas are suggested by today’s gospel…growth…and wisdom. There is a link between growth and freedom. And wisdom has an association with education.

We have had the lovely easy part of Christmas – worshipping a new born innocent baby – too fluffy for some, but with its renewing and renewable attraction every year. But all parents, and children with new born cute little pets, know about growth and changes which come quickly. Perfect dependent lovable babies must grow and be allowed to grow – however difficult. They must grow and first crawl, then walk, and be given freedom for themselves, even if this means they walk away when capable of doing so. It was no different for Mary and Joseph. The deepest love does not hold on to us – rather it lets us go. There is much beauty but also pain in true love, as it frees the other to love someone else even more than us. Holding on never works – and is ultimately a refusal of the greater things God has in store for all his creation.

There may be in most of us a similar attitude to our faith – holding on to a simple childlike faith, the height or depth of which is experienced away in a manger. But this too is something we need to let go, in order for something bigger and better to grow.

We can apply this idea even more widely and notice how Jesus escapes from the limited world of his family, the old cosy home, and then offers back, after his death and resurrection the vast and eternal home of the Kingdom. This encourages us to ask for the grace to let go of those whom we love, keeping the door open for their return, trusting that they will come back with gifts we could not have dreamt of. Growth arising from trusting freedom.

The other focus today concerns wisdom. Indeed we could call today ‘Wisdom Sunday’. Education is very often about discovering things that were previously hidden from our understanding. Much knowledge, and good education can be self-taught. But it is easy to take a wrong turning, and trust too much to one’s own instincts. You need to learn from others. You need to know where to seek wisdom. Today, in the only Gospel story that portrays the growing up of Christ as a boy, Jesus is found in the temple at Jerusalem, ‘sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions’. The initial picture shows Jesus as the student but ‘all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers’. He becomes a teacher himself to the other teachers who had the humility to be astonished and amazed, and filled with wonder.

St. Paul in today’s epistle refers to what lies at the heart of wisdom and education: be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. He gives us the idea of our being led out of the prisons of our own limited selves…not conforming to the whims and fancies of our own day and world … and of our being led into the wisdom of God which alone is transforming.

And in his homily on today’s gospel reading, one of the early fathers of the Church reminds his hearers where to seek the wisdom of God. Where did Jesus look? Origen says this:

Seeking him St. Luke says, they found him in the temple. Not anywhere, but in the temple. And not simply in the temple, but sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions. Do you therefore seek him in the temple of God: seek him in the Church: seek him among the teachers who are in the temple, and who depart not from it. If you so seek him you will find him. Further, if anyone calls himself a teacher, and has not Jesus with him, he is a teacher only in name, and with such a one Jesus the Word of God, and his wisdom, cannot be found.

(Origen, Homily 18 in Luke)
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