Arrogance vs. Wisdom: Humanity’s Balancing Act

Even the best of human beings tend to be annoying. It starts in childhood and develops from there. Take a typical 12-year-old boy. He tends to be self-centered, mouthy, and ignorant of the consequences of his actions—all of which describes young Jesus in today’s gospel. Sure, he was doing God’s will by visiting the temple and participating in scholarly give-and-take with the teachers. But did he bother telling his parents where he’d be? It didn’t even occur to him that his mother would be worried sick about his whereabouts. And after three days of separation, when Mary finally catches up with him, does he apologize? No, he says the equivalent of “Didn’t you know I have more important things to do than to hang around with you guys?” That would have earned a time-out in some households, and a smack in the back of the head in others.

Luckily this was THE blessed mother of all times, and she understood this boy’s lifelong mission. So he got a pass.

 But today’s readings seem designed to guide us away from being too annoying, even though being annoying is an inescapable human trait. These passages recognize that, so they give us some golden rules to live by. These are timeless advisories, as applicable to today’s family life as they were a couple thousand years ago. They’re even more so, actually. With people living longer, middle-aged couples are now taking care of their aging parents, just as they release their children to adulthood. With dementia a common consequence of aging, today’s message from Sirach couldn’t be more pertinent: “Take care of your father when he is old, even if his mind fails, be considerate of him.”

 Paul gives the Colossians a variant of the Golden Rule in the second reading: Do unto others as God has done unto you. This is the ultimate wisdom, which is our divine inheritance. Indeed, we were made in the image and likeness of God, and it’s wisdom we get from the Father. From Jesus we get a model of ideal humanity—including a bit of Kid Jesus’ arrogance. And from the Holy Spirit we inherited the grace to counterbalance that arrogance, which ultimately made us redeemable. Jesus shed his arrogance along with his childhood and accomplished his mission of redemption. Although most of us retain our arrogance well into adulthood, let’s pray for enough wisdom to counterbalance it, with enough wisdom left over to pass along to our children as they deal with their parents’ transition from arrogance to frailty.

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