Deconstructing The Wisdom of the Wise

As many have gotten tipsy celebrating Christmas promoting the consumer culture by buying expensive gifts thereby favouring the greedy corporates in amassing wealth who would later assuage their guilt of covetousness by acts of charity to camouflage the socio-economic inequality they have knowingly caused, it is good to withdraw to reflect on the “merriness” of this festivity. As it is, our Holy Fathers and Mothers never entertained the commercialization of this season. For St. Gregory writes;

“Let us not put wreaths on our front doors, or assemble troupes of dancers, or decorate the streets. Let us not feast the eyes, or mesmerize the sense of hearing, or make effeminate the sense of smell, or prostitute the sense of taste, or gratify the sense of touch…For to me all that is superfluous and beyond need is dissoluteness, particularly when others are hungry and in want, who are of the same clay and the same composition as ourselves.” (Oration 38.5)[1]

The Church today commemorates the massacre of the holy infants. The pathway of the nativity of Christ was drenched by the warm blood of many infants who were not caressed and breastfed to their parents’ content of heart. What led to this was the parochial wisdom of the “wise” men. Disregarding the star at the rising, taking pride in their own shallow speculations which coerced them to travel to the palace of Herod for they anticipated that a King in all probability would be born in a palace, led to this brutal genocide. This is corroborated by their exclamation on seeing the star after their conversation with Herod; (“καὶ ἰδοὺ ὁ ἀστήρ, ὃν εἶδον ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ, προῆγεν αὐτούς”) – “and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east went before them” (Matt 2:9). The star had not led them to the palace, if so they would not be surprised to see it going before them. They were led by their imperial prejudice and insular wisdom.   

The wise men were not wise enough to know that the Lord had subverted the wisdom of the world as He had promised through Isaiah; “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise.” (Is. 29:14). The “wise” men were truly made wise only after their encounter with Christ who is “the Wisdom of God.” (1Cor. 1:24). The change is reflected in their action in refusing to collaborate with the imperial powers by returning to their country another way. Rev. Kate Jones Calone writes;

“Throughout human history, individuals and institutions have had to make difficult and risky decisions in response to unjust directives — especially those directives framed as required cooperation, “for the good of the country.” Resistance can take many forms: Dissent, protest, civil disobedience. Sometimes, though, what should be done is simply declining to participate.”[2]

Going beyond the mere semantics of this biblical narrative we discover the warning conveyed that siding with the Empire begets bloodshed and it is children who are most likely at stake. Children continue to bear the brunt of the decisions of “grown ups”. Marital disputes, unjust government policies, exploitation of natural resources under the pretence of “development”, the regressive baggage of socio-cultural traditions and the like. Christians cannot afford to be indifferent to the ordeals of children as we foster the God consciousness of a 12 year old lad (the age at which Jesus addressed God, Father.)

I draw your attention to a painting entitled “Scène du massacre des Innocents” (“Scene of the massacre of the Innocents”) by the largely overlooked Parisian painter, Léon Cogniet in 1824. Today it hangs in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes. The painting portrays a petrified, vulnerable and cornered mother who is at the verge of losing her son to the fury of the Empire. The painting is really disturbing because she looks right into our eyes with an interrogative gaze demanding an answer on whether we have sided with the Empire. Mike Frost writes;

“Cogniet’s Scène du massacre des Innocents asks us to examine ourselves, to consider why this woman would be so scared of us, to examine the ways we have been co-opted by the forces of empire, and sided with the powerful over the weak and the poor…Empires continue to clash. The powerful continue to victimize children to secure their political goals. Mothers still cradled doomed children in their arms all around the world.”[3]

Let us take time to muse our own overt and covert forms of complicity. Let us purge this season of imperial infiltration which taught us to sing “Silent Night” deliberately making the lament of those bereaved fathers and mothers unheard. May today’s Fraction Hymn disturb us;

If one were to ponder the

Slaughter of the innocents

His eyes would be filled with tears

And his heart filled with sorrow

In Christ

Dayroyo Fr. Basil


[1] St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Festal Orations Nonna Verna Harrison trans. (Crestwood: SVS Press, 2008), 63-64.

[2] Kate Jones Calone, “When the Wise Men Refused to Collaborate with the Empire” https://sojo.net/articles/when-wise-men-refused-collaborate-empire.  

[3] Mike Frost, “A Christmas Painting: The Scene of the Massacre of the Innocents” https://vision.org.au/business/a-christmas-painting-the-scene-of-the-massacre-of-the-innocents/.

2 Comments

  1. The latest required form of collaboration with corrupt rulers [1] that directly threatens our children is to accept an mRNA covid-19 vaccine because we are afraid, where any detrimental impacts it could have on our ability to father, or to bear children have not been tested.[2] The Magushe, or the Magi of the New Testament failed to notice the threat that Herod posed to the lives of the young, with terrible consequences. Are we about to repeat their failure?

    [1] According to the British Medical Journal: https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4425
    [2] See page 6 in https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/941452/Information_for_healthcare_professionals.pdf

    Like

  2. These innocent lives bear witness to Christ who was persecuted from the time of His birth by a world which would not receive Him…

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s