"Conventional Wisdom?"
September 20, 2023, 6:00 AM

“So, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:16

Jesus ushered in a challenge to conventional “wisdom” when he suggested equal pay for workers who labored only a few hours compared to those who worked an entire day. Certainly, someone who works more hours at a job should be paid more than those who work less, which is an example of conventional wisdom based on the world’s view of fairness.

St. Francis lived without seeking to buy goods, longing for money, or criticizing those who did. He believed that true wisdom was found in another way, that is, in experiencing God alone.

Conventional wisdom may work for us, albeit, in a limited way in our world. However, the real wisdom that gives eternal life undermines conventional wisdom and guides us to a holy separateness by viewing the world from God’s perspective.

It is often our dependence on conventional wisdom that tricks us and gives rise to unhappiness. There are many inherent and overlooked ways by which this occurs.

That which we think to be “good” is many times culturally defined, such as wealth, prestige, and position. Seeking the culturally defined “good” is frequently rewarded in our culture. Jesus instructed us differently.

Likewise, “evil” is also culturally defined, and linked with the threat of punishment in this life or the next. Look no further than how many regard those in the LGBTQ+ community. The underlying theme is dualistic, as in good/evil or a win/lose mentality. However, God’s authentic experience is of one who always shows mercy and compassion to all. Instead of conventional wisdom offering a formula of 1+1=2, God’s wisdom allows for 1+1=3.

The belief in logic, fairness, order, and certainty are key concepts in conventional wisdom. Life is thought to be reasonable and proper. Marginalized people realize the fallacy in these concepts. That is the reason why Jesus moved to live almost entirely among the outcasts. When we grasp how Jesus actually lived, our distorted way of viewing the world is exposed.

People following the wisdom of God see life as a collision of opposites and filled with chaos, instead of certitude. Job’s world, where the good suffer and evil flourishes, brings home this point. God’s wisdom illumines the reality that “wounding” in life may lead a person to God, and having a false innocence leads only to self-preoccupation.

Conforming to the dominant way people think in society is often confused with what is “normal.” It is the way “nice” people think, and “niceness” is considered a “virtue.” Such thinking traps a person in their own mind. It also keeps people embedded in their own small like-minded circle, and it fosters judgment of others outside of that circle.

Staying fixed in a circle goes hand in hand with being “unaware” – unaware of a God who sees value in people of different backgrounds. This “unawareness” fosters blaming others, seeing others as evil, and distrusting their intentions . . . all of which results in wanting us to “keep the status quo.”

What is most disturbing is that being “unaware” is generally rewarded. When a person conforms to the conventional wisdom of a group, conformity reinforces the “unawareness” of the entire group. Members of the group eventually become focused solely on themselves about who they are, what they do, and how they look in front of others. Think of our current political parties and the red/blue divide.

Moving beyond conventional wisdom is not easy. Jesus gave us examples in the parables. To paraphrase Jesus, “Look, you need to see these situations differently. See the situations for what they are, and not the way you want to see them, or were taught to see them. God is working in ways far beyond your thoughts. Trust in me and not in the conventional wisdom of your society. Conventional wisdom is too limited and cannot give you a true picture of what life with God is about.”

Most people are comfortable starting with conventional wisdom. However, to follow Christ, a person cannot stay there. Conventional wisdom eventually fails and comes up short. Jesus spent much of his time breaking apart conventional wisdom and showing that the wisdom of God is very different and will prevail.

May God allow you to live beyond conventional wisdom and embrace the wisdom of a God who is far beyond our human understanding.

Prayers and Blessings,

Fr. John