Each year around this time, the diocesan finance office requests documentation from parishes for the purpose of an annual audit of parish financial activity. Among the documents requested this year were copies of forms provided to the parish in the 2021 tax year by vendors. After submitting the requested forms, we learned that what the finance office really wanted was copies of forms for all vendors which provided goods and services to the parish in the 2021 tax year. The number of forms provided by vendors during 2021 is minuscule compared to the number of vendors who provided goods and services. Given their compositional skills, I would guess that the employees of the finance department were not English majors in college.
The author of the letter to the Colossians had a compositional style similar to that of our diocesan finance office. The author wrote, “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” (Col 1:24) This sounds like he is saying there is something lacking in what Jesus accomplished for the world by dying on the Cross. What he meant, however, was that he considered his sufferings to be part of the normal sufferings experienced by the Church: as the Church is called to imitate Jesus’ sufferings in order to give public witness to faith in the Resurrection, all Church members (including apostles) are required to do their part to fulfill what is expected of the whole community of the saved. The suffering that was “lacking” was the suffering that the Church should reasonably expect to experience. In the author’s usage, “lacking” didn’t mean deficient; it meant expected, anticipated, or impending.
Later in today’s second reading, the author made another curious statement. He wrote that the vocation of the apostles was to teach “everyone with all wisdom.” This statement can mean that the apostles taught only those who possessed all wisdom or that they themselves had the gift to teach all wisdom to people. The author intended neither of these meanings. What the author was trying to say was that the apostles spent their lives and energies, employing every means available and using every opportunity, to teach about the redemption accomplished by Jesus on the Cross. Teaching all the wise, teaching all wisdom, and teaching by means of every opportunity are vastly different activities; the author had the latter in mind when he wrote about his ministry and the ministry of the apostles.
In order to understand the author’s rather opaque prose, it might be helpful to examine the meaning of the word “wisdom” in the Scriptures. In the Scriptures, the word “wisdom” can refer to common sense, gracefulness, virtuosity, prudence, levelheadedness, or similar traits.
In today’s first reading, Abraham exhibited wisdom when he extended generous hospitality to the three strangers standing outside his tent. The Responsorial Psalm describes a person who possesses wisdom; it says that a wise person is honest, avoids slander, does no harm to others, and practices mercy. In the Gospel reading, Mary exhibited wisdom by choosing “the better part.” (Lk 10:42)
The author of the letter to the Colossians, and his companions in ministry, were wise people because they took advantage of every opportunity to witness to their faith, and they used every means at their disposal to preach about the Resurrection; they did all this in order to fulfill Jesus’ command to preach the Gospel to all people. We will be judged wise if we do the same.
Giving witness to the Resurrection is not an activity reserved only to apostles or saints or clergy. It is the vocation of every baptized person to share the good news of redemption through faith in Jesus. Catholics often grow a little dizzy or begin to feel overwhelmed when they hear talk about witnessing publicly to their faith. At a previous parish assignment, I mentioned to a group of parishioners that I thought they were ready to begin evangelizing in their immediate environment; they looked as if they wanted to pull the fire alarm lever and flee the building. Witnessing to one’s faith isn’t as complicated or intimidating as it sounds; it is merely a matter of using available opportunities to spread Jesus’ good news.
The most powerful act of giving witness to one’s faith is to do nothing more than live in a fashion guided by Jesus’ teaching. To forgive those who offend you is a profound statement about your faith in God. To be grateful for the good things in the world and in your life is a very clear statement about your hope in salvation. To bear patiently with the weaknesses and failings of yourself and other people is a very public witness to the redemption promised in Baptism.
The wisdom of the baptized is that we understand what the author of the letter to the Colossians meant when he wrote that he worked “to bring to completion for you the word of God.” (Col 1:25) There is nothing incomplete in God’s Word. “To bring to completion” means to fulfill our baptismal promises through the way we relate to the people around us. The “wisdom” given us in Baptism helps us recognize and utilize the many mundane daily opportunities that permit us to make a public statement about our faith through the ways in which we behave.