Let’s wrap up our three-part look at Wisdom 1:1-16, a rather long Lectionary passage in the Rite of Penance (#111).
When I was reflecting on this passage earlier this week, it struck me as a possibly good choice for a funeral. Perhaps starting with the line “God did not make death …” and proceeding to “… justice is undying.” I often pray with the NRSV Bible, and their translation describes “righteousness is everlasting.”
In connection with either a penitent or a deceased person, do we speak of the person’s accomplishments as righteous or just or worthy? A colleague of mine in music really dislikes one reference in a hymn to “our justice and God’s peace.” Our justice is not just, she complains. It is really God’s justice of which we speak. I think she has a point.
What we’re really aiming at is human alignment with God’s virtues. Not so much the best of our best, which might fall woefully short of the ideal. Anyway, the author of Wisdom counsels we steer away from our own works, and attend to the things of God. Which, by the way, include the created world:
Court not death by your erring way of life,
nor draw to yourselves destruction by the works of your hands.
Because God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
For he fashioned all things that they might have being,
and the creatures of the world are wholesome;
There is not a destructive drug among them
nor any domain of the nether world on earth,
For justice is undying.
It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death,
considered it a friend, and pined for it,
and made a covenant with it,
Because they deserve to be in its possession.
This personification of death might also apply to addictions. Or the tempter. This was written in the 2nd century BC, most likely, in present-day Egypt, most likely. Long before Twelve Steps, but very observant of the human condition.
These verses seem the small unit from Wisdom 1 most amenable to either an individual reconciliation or a communal celebration. Lent seems especially appropriate, as that season is devoted to our rejection of death (5th Sunday Gospel John 11:1-45) and many other thematic texts that point to life in God.